By Cherise Kaechele

The Observer

The massive earthquake and the ensuing tsunami that hit Japan in 2011 killed thousands and caused damage that took years to repair. Geologists say a similar event is likely along the Northwest Coast, and emergency managers urge residents to prepare.

The earthquake would be the biggest natural disaster the nation has ever seen,
according to a June 4 story by The Associated Press.

The Cascadia Subduction Zone is a convergent plate boundary that runs between northern Vancouver Island and Northern California. Geologists claim there is a large-scale earthquake,
approximately 9.0 in magnitude, looming in the region’s future. It’s been 315 years since the last Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake. These earthquakes tend to hit the Oregon coast every 234 years on average, according to an Oregon Public Broadcasting article.

More than 8 million people live in the area that is vulnerable to a quake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone, according to The Associated Press story. In the Grande Ronde Valley, there will likely be some isolated areas of damage, but nothing like the destruction that such a quake would cause on the west side of the state, said J.B. Brock, emergency services director for Union County.

The projections created by geologists of estimated fatalities and the lasting effects of this earthquake are available — but that’s the important thing to keep in mind, Brock said. They’re just projections.

“It’s best guess modeling,” he said.

He said the strongest shaking the county would see is predominantly in the valley, according to projections.

“There’s a little bit (of shaking) in La Grande, along the river, some in Elgin,” he said. “Most of Cove looks good. The good news is we’re not going to see a significant amount of shaking. The bad news is, we’ll see some.”

The major potential effects on residents, Brock said, include power outages and a loss of natural gas.

The phone systems won’t be down immediately, he said. He said should the earthquake hit, social media would be the best way to communicate with family and friends.

“Have a communication plan. Not only for your family, but anyone else you’re concerned about,” Brock said. “Especially on the west side. How are you going to communicate with each other?”

Brock suggested using the Red Cross Safe and Well system, a registry that people can check to see if family has registered on the website.

As Brock pointed out, the extent of the damage naturally depends on the magnitude of the quake.

“There are different classifications of earthquakes,” he said. “The 7.0 magnitude is just clearing its throat. The 9.0 is the ‘big bad’. Either one of those could happen.”

The longer term effects of a large-scale quake could cause more trouble for our region, he said. Many bridges on the west side of the Cascades will likely be destroyed, which will affect the delivery of goods and services that come out of that area.

“Not only will there be immediate damage to transportation infrastructure, but the rail lines and barge traffic as well,” Brock said. “Because of the tsunami, those ports will receive significant damage. The economic long term is more concerning than the emergency.”

It’s all projections though, he said. The only way to deal with the possibility of a cataclysmic event is to be prepared.

“Personal preparedness is key,” Brock said. “The emergency federal sites recommend 72 hours’ worth of food. However, I’d say, at a minimum, (you should have on hand) 10 days’ worth of fuel, food, water and medications to be fully self-sustaining.”

He also emphasized people need to know that it’s crucial to store plenty of water. Brock said we should be prepared for the quake happening in any season. If it hits in the midst of winter, having the proper clothing and shelter to keep warm will be essential.

Last month, first responders in Union County took part in a training exercise with the Cascadia earthquake as their model. Three different scenes were set up with casualties, including fatalities, to ready the emergency responders for this incident.

The first responders have an inkling of what’s going to be required of them when this earthquake hits, but the more prepared people are for this scenario, the better off the community will be, Brock said.

For significant injuries, the Grande Ronde Hospital would stabilize the patients and fly them to a higher level of care. That’s the model pushed down by the federal government for a situation like this. However, with an event like the earthquake, that model, and the resources required, may not be possible or available.

“A lot of people in the state will be transferring their patients to the same hospital,” Brock said.

There’s really no way of knowing what resources are going to be available. The earthquake will affect the entire Pacific Northwest and the communities won’t be able to rely on each other for their resources, he said.

“We have to keep in mind where we live and what sort of help we’ll be getting here,” Brock said. “The federal government and Red Cross will take about 72 hours to respond. The resources that will be coming into help will not be coming to the Grande Ronde Valley first. They’ll be going to the I-5 corridor. We need to have a higher level of preparedness. We live in a rural area for a reason. We’re more self-sufficient. We should be more prepared.”

Brock said there are resources online that talk about what should be in an emergency kit and how and what to stockpile. A good place to start is to think about what the family needs on a day-to-day basis to sustain themselves.

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re not prepared, (and) you’re directly affecting those who need help,” Brock said. “(Emergency responders) won’t want to give food to all 26,000 people in the county.”

Above all, Brock said, the community should realize that it’s not a question of whether this earthquake will take place, but when.

“I think that’s important, because that defines the threat. There is historical evidence this will happen,” he said. “It has happened many times before. And there’s significant evidence we’re overdue for it.”