Your Life Post-Quake

Step One: Buckle Up
That’s your coffee vibrating. The mug does a little dance, steps down the coaster, and merrily rumbles its way across the desk. The ground beneath you lurches up and down like the deck of a ship. Then everything just shakes.

If you’re inside, stay there; be under something sturdy and fort-like. If you’re outside, wide open spaces are a good idea as usual. Driving on roads oscillating like jump ropes? Yeah, you should probably go ahead and pull over. Neat video you got with what was left of your cell phone battery. You’ve had so much time for earthquake observations, you’ve run out of stuff around you to look at. Enough already with the terra-not-so-firma—after a few very long minutes, the ground holds still.

Great, now you have no signal. The power’s out. Your tap water definitely shouldn’t be that color. Is that gas you smell? Congratulations on surviving the Cascadia subduction zone earthquake and all. Good on you for remembering the old Duck-Cover-Hold bit. Well done. Mind the aftershocks, and do stay out of sketchy unreinforced masonry structures, or near anything else liable to squish you.

Now where’s that family group of other vertebrates you care so much about? Too bad you won’t be able to reach them just yet. What’s supposed to happen now? Transportation and communication just got weird—and it’s going to be like this for weeks or months, not days. Don’t worry, the beautiful mess you saw in the mirror this morning is exactly what’s going to get you through this. You still should have bought more toilet paper though. What would you need to function that long in a sort-of-scary survival situation? What else could you do to help out?

Disaster Resilience
Living on Shaky Ground is the Oregon Office of Emergency Management’s how-to guide to surviving earthquakes and tsunamis in our fair state—a good source of information if the Cascadia subduction subject is new to you. It reads, “A major earthquake or tsunami will likely overwhelm local law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical personnel and resources. In fact, it may take local, state, and federal agencies a week or more to provide the most basic relief. This is particularly true in the many locations on the coast and in rural areas of Oregon.”

Blocked roads, disabled utilities, busted buildings, and helping people likely worse off than you will be more than enough to occupy emergency personnel. Effectively we could all very well be our own little islands for a bit; and this next part will really depend on you. Imagine a Corvallis without power, or road and cellular networks for a month. Remember that towns and cities from California to Canada are likely worse off, especially those near the coast.

So what exactly would living in a disaster-resilient community look like after a Cascadia subduction zone earthquake? Well, the Oregon Resilience Plan from the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission sets the goal that, “Oregon citizens will not only be protected from life-threatening physical harm, but because of risk reduction measures and pre-disaster planning, communities will recover more quickly and with less continuing vulnerability following a Cascadia subduction zone earthquake and tsunami.”

The very same 2013 plan also says, “Oregon is far from resilient to the impacts of a great Cascadia earthquake and tsunami today. Available studies estimate fatalities ranging from 1,250 to more than 10,000 due to the combined effects of earthquake and tsunami, tens of thousands of buildings destroyed or damaged so extensively that they will require months to years of repair, tens of thousands of displaced households, more than $30 billion in direct and indirect economic losses (close to one-fifth of Oregon’s gross state product), and more than one million dump truck loads of debris.” So there’s that.

Shaky Grounds, Liquid Earth
Soil liquefaction will likely be a problem as well. According to one US Geological Survey website, “Earthquake waves cause water pressures to increase in the sediment and the sand grains to lose contact with each other, leading the sediment to lose strength and behave like a liquid. The soil can lose its ability to support structures, flow down even very gentle slopes, and erupt to the ground surface to form sand boils. Many of these phenomena are accompanied by settlement of the ground surface—usually in uneven patterns that damage buildings, roads, and pipelines.”

Unconsolidated sediment deposits predominantly east of Highway 99W are the earthquake hazard regions identified as more susceptible to liquid-like ground behavior around Corvallis. Oregon’s critical energy infrastructure hub, home to our liquid fuel supply, occupies a six-mile stretch of these types of soils downstream of us along the Willamette River.

It’s perhaps a comforting thought to imagine last century’s architectural malfeasances being wiped away and cities for a new century built in their place, and all of us someday with our “less continuing vulnerability.” A Cascadia subduction zone earthquake, akin to the great Chicago or London fires, certainly might remake the faces of our cities. In the not-so-great near-term though, we’re in for interesting times.

Short-term resiliency would mean we’d all have access to first-aid, clean water to drink, a warm meal to look forward to, a dry spot to sleep, and a peaceful place to—um, drink coffee and read the Advocate. Particularly with that last one, you’ll need to go ahead and take care of each of those things yourself. With those things accomplished, we stand to be useful humans instead of potential victims.

Keep Calm, We’re Corvallis
Now that our tinfoil hats are all neatly folded, take a deep breath and let’s talk about keeping Corvallis comfortable, in case of such an inconvenient event. Rest a little easier knowing great groups of professionals all over this town are exuberantly dedicated to emergency preparedness. Simulating these slightly more apocalyptic scenarios also serves pretty well to prepare for the less grandiose types of disasters, too.

During June’s Cascadia Rising functional exercise, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho emergency operations centers along with the whole bowl of federal, state, and local emergency alphabet soup simulated their collective response to an 8.0 to 9.0 magnitude earthquake along the entire 800-mile-long Cascadia subduction zone. The four-day live-action-role-play response drill tested responders’ core capabilities including operational communications, public health and medical services, mass care systems, situational assessment, and critical transportation.

The Great Oregon Shake Out says nearly 23,000 people in Benton County alone participated in the Oct. 20 drill at K-12 schools, colleges, healthcare facilities, and elsewhere. The event is held every year on the third Thursday of October to help Oregonians prepare for a major earthquake.

Ignorance of the probability of such an event has largely gone away. Chances are this isn’t the first article you’ve read about a Cascadia subduction earthquake. The next step to creating real resilience is about forming strong partnerships and relationships around this knowledge—something that’s certainly been well built into our local emergency management over the last decade.

OSU’s preparedness planning, too, goes well beyond a just-in-case supply of tarps, sleeping pads, sheets, and blankets. Mike Bamberger, preparedness manager for OSU, said, “We have prioritized our buildings for inspection, based on use after a disaster. We know there will be a limited amount of inspectors and resources after an event, and we want to make sure our immediate needs are met. We anticipate that the immediate needs will be medical services and housing for the on-campus resident hall population.

“If OSU could have people trained to teach basic response skills on a quarterly basis and have a club or organization to maintain interest and practice, we could be better prepared. I have an ultimate vision that each department has people trained in each of their buildings and they can respond within their building and help evacuate/search/rescue people after an incident. If each building could do that, then the response effort goes faster, is safer—we aren’t waiting for the next level of responders to arrive. It may take a while to achieve this vision, but is something I think we need.”

This holds true for all of us, and it’s really at the heart of what might keep us from reaching our short-term resiliency goals. Trained, organized, rational thinking humans are the real limiting factor that will make or break this vibe’s whole scene. There’s just one problem—there really aren’t very many of them to go around.

What each of us knows will be way more important than how many bottles of water we hide under the bed. The Benton County Sheriff’s website is another good place to start for more disaster preparedness information. Making natural disaster plans is a fun family dinner conversation at the very least. Maybe more-than-think about taking that first-aid course, joining a community emergency response team, or ham radio club.

We have precisely the right sorts of first responders, healthcare providers, builders, engineers, students, scientists, farmers, permaculture enthusiasts, and irrationally, insatiably positive-thinking people in this town. You or your neighbors already own water purifiers, tents, first-aid kits, and flashlights. Wouldn’t it be great if all of that dreadful disaster drama was well, less of a thing?

A Few Things to Do
If you do nothing else to prepare, buy your pets food, won’t you? According to FEMA, “For public health reasons, many emergency shelters cannot accept pets.” Benton County Sheriff’s Animals in Disaster reads, “If you are a pet owner, your plan and provisions should include your pets. It may be difficult, if not impossible, to find shelter for your animals in the midst of a disaster; so plan ahead.”

If your place is more comfortable than a gym floor, settle in for a spell. Have a family plan that includes an out-of-state contact and alternate meeting places. Once your little group is sorted, go say hello to your neighbors. Some of us will need more help than others.

Don’t trust the water might be a good mantra to adopt. Bringing water to a rolling boil or adding two drops of plain bleach per liter is good enough to kill most everything; but it doesn’t take any contaminants out. Knowing how these things go—of course it’ll be raining—but in a real pinch, your water heater is probably full. Filters and purification tabs aren’t bad investments either. Weeks of bottled water and food has more volume than most of us in affordable housing can afford to store.

Buying 100 cans of soup will raise suspicions. Besides, you don’t like soup that much anyways. Grabbing an extra box of bunny-shaped-pasta, bag of coffee, and whatever else you already like to eat starts to add up. Remember to rummage, donate, and replace as needed. That and the extra toilet paper will all of a sudden be there for you next time it snows. If you use any medications, when would you run out?

Don’t worry, The Corvallis Advocate will do our best to bring you the most dependable source of misspelled names in news after any Cascadia subduction zone earthquake. Johannes Gutenberg and Rube Goldberg would both be proud when from the depths of our secret lair the comically over-sized switch is thrown, and the off-grid print shop churns out fresh newsprint to cheer the huddled masses.

Our first post-subduction zone earthquake story will run with one of two taglines that Thursday: “Corvallis residents accept Earth occasionally wiggles, organize week-long barbeque to commemorate uselessness of freezers” or “Corvallis residents dig holes, bury heads in sand awaiting rescue.” If it’s the former, I’m sure we’d also run a sidebar about some excellent new art installation of upcycled post-industrial building materials, too. 

By Matthew Hunt

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