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by Karen Kidd
Portland is weird, wonderful, and family friendly. But as we go about our daily lives, we all carry a sense of worry and anticipation in the back of our minds, awaiting an ominous years-overdue disaster: the Big One.
This imminent mega earthquake spawned by the Cascadia subduction zone could register 9.2 on the Richter scale, last about four minutes, trigger a tsunami on the coast and bring down bridges and other infrastructure throughout the Pacific Northwest. With the by-now infamous “operating assumption” that “everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast,” it’s little wonder that Portland-area residents are putting together emergency kits and making preparations.
With savvy residents storing away bottled water, canned food, first aid kits and other items, and serious “preppers” looking into incinerating toilets and high capacity water storage, families in particular need to prepare in their own ways. There simply is no one-size-fits-all preparation strategy. “You have to take the needs of each family into consideration,” Oregon Emergency Management Geologic Hazards Coordinator Althea Rizzo said in interview with Portland Family magazine. “What one family may need will differ from what another will need.”
Of course, disaster planning isn’t just about earthquakes. Lesser emergencies also should be anticipated. However, experts in the field warn the Big One really could be big. This month marks the 316th anniversary of the last mega earthquake in the Cascadia subduction zone. Earthquake prediction is a notoriously inexact science, but the Pacific Northwest is decades overdue for another huge quake and chances are good it will hit in the next 50 years. That could be today, tomorrow, or years from now.
When such an event occurs, the greater Portland area will see hills slide; buildings collapse; and roads buckle, crack and sink. Water and sewer pipes, in addition to gas lines, will snap. Portland’s older bridges, including the Hawthorne, Steel and Interstate, probably will collapse in this scenario, as well their ramps. Fuel delivery will become all but impossible for days, weeks, maybe even months. Transportation will break down, with most folks walking or a relative luckier few traveling in boats. Preplanning and preparation could mean the difference between families who will make it through the disaster and those who will go hungry or thirsty, fall prey to disaster-borne illnesses or not make it at all.
Yes, it could be that bad.
For these reasons and more, emergency planners such as Rizzo maintain that preplanning and preparation are a must. The first step Rizzo recommends for Portland-area families is to check with the kids’ school or care provider. Find out what their emergency plans are, whether their personnel are trained for disaster, what emergency supplies are stockpiled, and what state-mandated emergency earthquake drills they are conducting. “Make sure that where your kids spend a great part of their day is prepared,” Rizzo said.
The next step is to talk to the kids about what may be coming. Earthquake preparedness should become part of a family’s overall safety strategy. “Not in a big, scary way,” Rizzo cautioned. “Make sure they know what might happen, where they will be and what they should do it if does happen.”
Family “stop, drop and cover” drills at home can reinforce what kids are learning in school. Families also should get appropriate first aid training. “You’re not going to be able to call 911 and expect an ambulance to come,” she said. “That just isn’t going to happen.”
The third step is to agree in advance on possible reunion locations and how your family will get around, “even if it’s walking,” Rizzo said. Older children especially can participate in family preparedness. Not only is it better to have these details understood in advance, but having a plan also helps children feel more confident and less fearful.
Rizzo also recommends that emergency supplies put together for the family should be what that family will need and use. To determined those items, a family should spend some weeks observing its own habits and needs. These may include whether to build up a supply of prescription medications, what easily stored foods the family enjoys, where to best and most conveniently store the emergency supplies, and who will be responsible for what tasks.
Planning for the Big One includes details as basic as cooking. Each family should decide in advance what will be their best cooking method. This could be an outdoor propane or charcoal cooker, maybe as simple as a hibachi or as advanced as a pre-built outdoor food preparation area. Plenty of fuel will need to be stored. Meanwhile, two weeks of food should stored in a safe, easy-to-get-to place. That’s 14 servings of canned, dried or otherwise preserved-for-the-long-haul food and one gallon of water per person per day.
The family also should take advantage of public and private resources that are becoming available. State and federal agencies are planning as well. A quick Google search for “Pacific Northwest the Big One” turns up plenty of useful information for families. A number of private organizations also are putting ideas out there that Portland-area families can use in an emergency. For instance, the Portland-area group “Public Hygiene Lets Us Stay Human” (www.phlush.org) offers a step-by-step plan for a two-bucket toilet system a family can use if flushing a toilet is not an option.
When the Big One hits, it also will be a time when families need to rely on each other, and planning for that should be underway. Now, before any area-wide emergency occurs, is when neighbors should know who has what resources and expertise. It’s also a time to determine who will need the most help, such as the elderly and latchkey kids. “This is just another thing people can do to protect kids and help keep each other safe,” Rizzo said.
“Waiting to think about it after the event is going to be too late.”
Karen Kidd is an independent scholar, researcher and writer who lives in the Cascades east of Silverton, Oregon.