I attended a workshop on March 7 presented by the State of Oregon Department of Emergency Management. The topic was Tsunami Awareness. For those of us on the West Coast, this is a topic close to our hearts. With the Cascadia Subduction Zone sitting about 60 miles offshore, and with its very active competing tectonic plates, experts agree The Big One is a matter of when and not if. Every city on the Oregon Coast has a tsunami warning system in place. Officials in coastal communities have taken the threat of earthquake/tsunami seriously enough to create evacuation routes and a warning system designed to minimize casualties. Those little signs point the way to higher ground and safety from an incoming tsunami.
I’m always mildly amused by the sign that says, “Leaving Tsunami Zone.” How do they know? What if that sucker is two feet higher, or 10 feet higher than their signpost. Now I’m not privy to all of the scientific planning that went in to marking the zone, but I’m assuming that their data is solid and was attained through sound processes. Just to be on the safe side, if I’m on the way out, running from a tsunami, I’m not stopping at that sign. Another thing not mentioned on the “evacuation route” signs is that if the anticipated earthquake is as severe as many think it will be, there is no way we can jump in our cars and simply drive our way to high ground. Streets will be broken, bridges impassable, building debris is likely to cover the road, power poles and power lines will block streets and trees are apt to have fallen in inconvenient places. More and more I’m hearing that folks are being instructed to “walk” to higher ground. I’m thinking “run” is more like it, but some of us don’t run much anymore. Not for very far anyway.
Also, if you’re on the beach or at sea level and you feel the shaking of a quake, don’t wait for the siren. That shaking is likely the only warning you will get. Computer simulations have demonstrated that on January 26, 1700, when the last Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake stuck our coast, it is estimated that there was a 20 to 30 minute time period before the initial tsunami wave hit. Geologic history has showed waves were 30 feet or higher Another evacuation tactic is also being suggested: Vertical evacuation. That is, finding a sturdy building at least three stories high and climbing to the top floor. If there is a higher building available, get to it!
I recently viewed a video produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting. Titled “Unprepared” the presentation examines just exactly how prepared, or rather how unprepared we are on the Oregon Coast for a major earthquake. Video footage of Japan’s quake and tsunami help drive home the point of how massive the damage could be. Also eerie similarities between the Japanese geologic structure and the Cascadia Subduction zone off our coast reinforce the point that survival for many depends on preparation and planning.
Some communities are moving forward with preparations to locate schools and other facilities out of the tsunami zone while others are bogged down with budgetary constraints and apparent failure to grasp the seriousness of the situation. This is a sobering look at not only Oregon’s seismic situation, but our response to disaster preparedness especially on the coast. www.obp.org/news/series/unprepared. The video runs about an hour it is time well spent.
Dave Robinson is a retired Bandon postmaster and the author of “Disaster Prep For The Rest Of Us,” available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and other online booksellers.