One area of great concern for Americans is the Pacific Northwest, and in particular, the Oregon coast.
This concern about an Oregon earthquake is not a new one for residents. More than 100 faults can be found running under Oregon and Washington. These faults are responsible for the 1,000 plus earthquakes that occur throughout the area each year.
Scientists have been concerned about the potential for a large earthquake beneath Portland for some time. They believe that it is only a matter of time that an Oregon earthquake similar to the 6.8 Nisqually earthquake that hit the Seattle area in 2001, will strike the Portland area.
As if a 6.8 earthquake is not enough, a 2008 study reveals that the region is somewhat overdue for a mega-earthquake as well.
Why an Oregon Mega-Earthquake?
Scientifically speaking, the mega-earthquake is actually a Mega-thrust Earthquake. This type of earthquake occurs at subduction zones along destructive plate boundaries. It is at these boundaries where one tectonic plate is forced under, or “subducts,” another. During the subduction process, large sections can get stuck. When these sections finally break free, there is a large release of energy causing some of the world's largest earthquakes.
Only this type of tectonic activity is known to produce earthquakes of a magnitude of 9.0 or more. According to the study, all six earthquakes from the last century with a magnitude of 9.0 or greater have been mega-thrust earthquakes.
When the Nisqually earthquake hit Seattle, it caused more than $2 billion in damage. It is safe to estimate that if an earthquake of comparable size hit Portland, the residents there would see a comparable amount damage to their city. Also, if a 9.0 earthquake would hit the Oregon coast the results would be devastating.
Oregon is Not Prepared
Though it is nearly impossible to make a city “earthquake proof,” it is possible for precautions to be taken to mitigate the damages of an earthquake; even one with a magnitude of 9.0.
Unfortunately for Oregon residents, it appears that these types of precautions have not been taken. According to the Senate President, Peter Courtney, of the Oregon State Legislature, “We are not prepared.”
It is not like voters are not trying though. In 2002, they authorized the state to use bonds to seismically retrofit key buildings in the state's infrastructure; such as schools, police stations and hospitals.
Nevertheless, the retrofitting is not happening as quickly as Courtney, and many others, had hoped. Courtney expressed his disappointment in a statement to Oregon Public Broadcasting.
"I've never understood this issue in terms of decision makers. There's always something more important to them. And you know why, they just think, well they say it's going to happen. But maybe it' won't happen. I know that's what's out there. All the evidence by all the scientists, world wide who've studied this thing for Oregon say you're going to get hit. It could be as bad as 9.3. You're going to get clobbered."
Oregon's Governor, John Kitzhaber, stated he liked that idea, “I think we can do seismic upgrades as well [meaning in tandem with already proposed efficiency upgrades], so I think there's an opportunity to re-employ good trade jobs throughout the state. Make our schools safer and more energy efficient at the same time.”
However, experts say that it is not just the infrastructure that is lacking in earthquake preparedness, but the residents as well. Most of Oregon's residents do not carry earthquake insurance, nor do they keep enough supplies on hand to be prepared for such a disaster. To be truly prepared, residents should have enough food, first aid, and water to last for at least two weeks.
If there is anything to be learned from the tragedy in Japan, it is that Mega-Earthquakes do happen and the only strategy available to survive them is to be prepared.