Oregon Lays Off Key Earthquake Expert in Pandemic Budget Cuts

Oregon lost an experienced engineer who specializes in evaluating tsunami and earthquake risks. The Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) laid off Yumei Wang after 26 years and have no plans to replace her.  

The agency relies on federal and local grants for funding as less than a third of their funding comes from the state of Oregon, according to Oregon Live. In May 2020, DOGAMI announced plans to reduce their budget in keeping with the Governor Kate Brown directing all state agencies to reduce their budgets by 17 percent.   

The end of her position raises concerns about public safety and earthquake preparedness. Oregon Live reported having seen inter-agency emails detailing the end of the position.  

 “We have made the difficult decision to discontinue focused resiliency program work within DOGAMI,” director Brad Avy wrote in an agency-wide email, according to Oregon Live.   

Wang was a key member of the team that created the Oregon Resilience Plan: Reducing Risk and Improving Recovery for the Next Cascadia Earthquake and Tsunami. She also penned an op-ed for Oregon Live during the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti and killed “at least 230,000 people” about the importance of a resiliency plan for Oregon.  

Wang wrote: “Our situation is in some respects eerily similar to Haiti’s… It’s time for Oregon to face the risk of earthquakes and tsunamis and build capacity to withstand Cascadia’s next mega-quake. We propose a 10-year, $1.5 billion Plan for Resilience to strengthen Oregon’s schools, bridges and coastal towns. Addressing these priorities now will save lives and keep commerce flowing in the aftermath of a quake and tsunami, ensuring that an inevitable disaster does not also become an unparalleled catastrophe.”  

Some may be surprised to learn that the state of Oregon has small earthquakes regularly and that Corvallis also has a fault located north and west of the City. An OSU Master’s thesis by Chris Goldfinger reports the Corvallis fault is 50 km long and partially defines the boundary between the central Willamette Valley and the east-central Coast Range of Oregon. The City of Corvallis has published a web resource containing maps and earthquake preparedness guidelines.