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Emergency Preparedness

We Have Our Warning: Prepare Now For Cascadia Earthquake

Representatives of the American Red Cross give preparedness advice to people at the Community Prepare Fair in Salem on Saturday, April 8.

Representatives of the American Red Cross give preparedness advice to people at the Community Prepare Fair in Salem on Saturday, April 8. Photo by Jolene Guzman.

We’ve had our notice.

That’s the response from Marion County Emergency Manager Ed Flick when asked about what warning we’ll have for the Cascadia subduction zone earthquake and tsunami.

Estimates vary — but there’s about a one-in-three chance it will happen in the next 50 years. That’s all the warning you’ll get.

I know, you’ve heard a lot about this, and you know it’s coming — at some point.

Why should preparing for that take priority over what is needed now?

Here’s why: The state government is pondering that same question. Preparing at that level means expensive infrastructure work and public building retrofits. Tackling that immense problem would require a shifting of priorities that isn’t likely to happen soon, not with budget cuts on the table.

Not that officials aren’t working on it, but there aren’t enough tax dollars to go around.

Pair that with the results of Cascadia Rising, a multi-state exercise that, in 2016, tested the Northwest’s response to the earthquake. Oregon Emergency Management’s statewide after-action report revealed government agencies at all levels have a long way to go.

OEM’s report noted federal, state, and local agencies and organizations are good at working together — not an insignificant strength — but there’s a long list of recommendations for improvement.

“We are not really as well-prepared for a Cascadia event as we should be,” said Paula Negele, spokeswoman for OEM.

One weakness noted is vulnerable transportation infrastructure that will hamper relief and recovery efforts.

That is to say, that if this happens closer to 50 years from now, help won’t be on the way for a while. If it happens soon, chances are we will be on our own for a long time. On. Our. Own.

No phones. No stores. No clean water. No sewer system. No electricity. No 911.

Listening to people whose work lives are spent on planning for such eventualities — hearing them call preparing a civic duty — is a wake-up call.

Watching the scenes filmed during Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami in OPB’s “Unprepared” is unnerving. That will happen here — it’s just a matter of time.

We’ve had our notice. Now it’s time to do something about it.

For more information: www.polkio.com

/news/emergency-preparedness/; www.ready.gov; redcross.org; www.oregon.OEM/2weeksready.

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