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Andrew Alden

Oregon Looks Hard at Its Cascadia Quake

By March 15, 2013

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In April 2011, right after the giant Tohoku earthquake in Japan, the Oregon state legislature instructed the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission to research ways for the state to help cope with a similar quake in Oregon. This week the commission issued its report, called the Oregon Resilience Plan, which "maps a path of policy and investment priorities for the next fifty years" according to its foreword. Given that it takes a whole day to turn around a large oil tanker, 50 years sounds about right for a whole state—cities, citizens and all—to take truly transformative steps against the kind of devastation a magnitude-9 event can bring.

The same kind of earthquake that struck Japan will also happen in the U.S.—we know it as the Cascadia megathrust earthquake. Every few centuries the enormous plate boundary off the coast of the Pacific Northwest gives way. The last time was in January 1700, when large areas of land sank and drowned the forests, the local tribes witnessed terrible battles between earth and sea, and Japanese harbormasters recorded an "orphan tsunami" that enabled us to learn the exact date and time it happened.

If we compare the death tolls from the 2004 Sumatra quake, in the third world, and the 2011 Tohoku quake, in the first, the benefits of earthquake resilience are obvious. A plan like Oregon's can reduce the human toll to a small fraction of what it would be today, and preparation can make the difference between a region bouncing back within months and languishing for decades. I hope that Oregon's efforts spread to its neighbors and other nations.

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