Is That All There Is? Denial in a Time of Disaster (by Judy Johnson)

Is That All There Is? Love Denial In A Time Of Cholera Disaster

People are talking about a 9.0 Cascadia subduction-zone earthquake these days. People think that if The Big One hits (and that’s a big IF), we’ll probably just be a few days with no electricity, maybe need to have a contractor come out and repair a crack in the wall or rebuild a fence. No biggie, just stash some canned food and a couple gallons of water in the garage and you’re good to go. Right?

JudypicThis picture represents the Portland area’s nemesis when The Big One finally hits: infrastructure failure. This is going to be our downfall – broken roads and utilities. We won’t get a tsunami. Well, not from the Pacific Ocean, that is. However if the Scoggins Dam at Hagg Lake fails[i], which seismic tests and a federal study indicate a probability that it will in the event of a 9.0 Cascadia subduction zone earthquake (“the most earthquake-vulnerable dam in the Pacific Northwest”, according to a report[ii] by The Oregonian), there will certainly be a large mass of water descending on many residents of Washington County.

What I’m getting at is this: our infrastructure is old and many parts of it are going to fail when The Big One hits. What is our infrastructure? It is our roads, our bridges, our dams and utilities (like water supply pipes). So maybe our homes don’t collapse, maybe we can get to our garage and have a survivalist picnic or two for a couple of days, but what happens when the water runs out and you’ve eaten your food, but the roads and bridges aren’t repaired yet, and the water pipes aren’t fixed yet, and the dam isn’t yet rebuilt and refilled with water? Where will you go to get more food and water? How will you get there? And since the roads and bridges are down, how will the stores restock food on their shelves? What would happen if it took several weeks to restore electricity service to your neighborhood? And just how are you going to flush your toilet, anyway? Portland, meet your nemesis.

Look at that bridge picture again, and be mindful that it represents all bridges, like freeway overpasses or an elevated roadway over a marshy area. Now imagine that you’re on one side during the day at your job, and your kids and/or pets are on the other side during the day. Maybe your kids are home from school already. Now imagine The Big One occurring. Does everyone know what to do? Better yet, imagine you are in downtown Portland, your family is in Washington County, The Big One hits, and the Vista Ridge tunnels[iii] on Highway 26 partially collapse a little[iv], along with a few bridges[v] and elevated portions of roads and highways (because they were built before seismic codes were created for them). You can’t call your kids to check on them, at least not for a couple of days, because the phone system is down. Now what? What’s that sound I hear? Oh yes, it is our nemesis settling in and getting comfortable.

Let’s just imagine the best of the worst-case scenarios. Let’s imagine that The Big One strikes while everyone is still at home, in the morning, before you’ve left for work or school. Your house isn’t damaged, Scoggins Dam doesn’t fail, but the roads and bridges in your area appear cracked and underground utilities are unusable, at least for a couple of months. It isn’t in the middle of a soggy wet winter, blistering heat wave or freezing ice storm, it is a nice fall day. Now what?

Why bother thinking about these scenarios? Because you need to have a plan. If you are a reasonable person at all, if you love your family, you need to have some kind of plan. Something beyond a couple of days of food and water stored on a shelf in the garage. Yes, a couple of days of food and water is a good thing to have, but that is not all there is to being prepared.

DO SOME RESEARCH

Oregon Resilience Plan – Cascadia, Oregon’s Greatest Natural Threat

judypic2 This is the first chapter of a report put out by the Oregon Office of Emergency Management (OEM) in 2013[vi]. It details anticipated shaking levels from a Cascadia mega-quake in Oregon, depending on your proximity to the coast. Damage to buildings, infrastructure and local geology are predicted, death and injury tolls are projected, and an estimated time frame for repairs and resumption of normal functions is given. The OEM has a variety of educational materials available to the public, including this interesting video[vii] which you might want to watch if you go to the coast.

Aftershock: Find your Cascadia quake story

Portlanders can go ahead and disregard that “Everything west of the I-5 will be underwater” line you may have heard. We are not going to be swept away by a tsunami here in the Willamette Valley. This[viii] is a nifty interactive webpage that lets you input your street address, then it gives you predictions on how your location will fare when The Big One hits as well as best estimates on how long until your community has services restored. The customized report is based on data modeling from the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI). This webpage also suggests an online community to help each other prepare at #unpreparednw[ix].

Living With Earthquakes: Belief And Information

This scholarly research about Americans in the New Madrid fault zone[x], combined with a study about citizens in Turkey[xi], provides a detailed psychological profile of people and communities that live under the threat of a great quake, yet do little to nothing to prepare for the inevitable disaster. Both studies point out the need for a wider distribution of accurate earthquake risk information to the public, as well as systems put in place to assist citizens in taking steps to better prepare themselves for the unavoidable seismic event.

TAKE ACTION!

Wouldn’t you like to know what to do if The Big One does actually happen in your lifetime? Wouldn’t you like to know what things you can do other than stockpile food & water? Thinking about The Big One, even preparing for it a little bit, doesn’t mean you are paranoid, it just means you’re using common sense.

  1. Talk To Your Neighbors
    Many Portland area cities & communities now have some version of a “Map Your Neighborhood” program (MYN)[xii], such as the one run by the City of Beaverton. This program helps you talk with your neighbors and come up with a plan on how you can effectively work together to help each other after a mega-quake. If you can’t get your neighbors to participate in the MYN, maybe they’ll agree to talk with you about this handy-dandy resource inventory[xiii]. All experts agree that in the event of a Cascadia subduction earthquake, it will be “neighbor helping neighbor” for a long time. The truth of this is borne out by the countless numbers of regular citizens who helped each other after the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, the 2011 Tohoku quake in Japan, and the 2011 Christchurch quake in New Zealand, to name just a recent few.
  2. Make plans with family members for various scenarios
    Even if you don’t have a neighborhood group to work with, you still need to talk with your family about what might happen and different ways you should react, depending on where you are when The Big One goes down. If you don’t live with family but have roommates instead, this is still something you should discuss. It’s a conversation worth having!
  3. Have a small stash of supplies in your vehicle
    This should make sense to most people. We normally spend some amount of time away from our homes almost every day. Just a small container in your trunk to hold a few items could make a huge difference in how well you can cope in an emergency. Even if you only end up using it thanks to one of our infamous ice storms, you’ll be glad you heeded this advice!
  4. Take this threat seriously
    As previously stated, thinking about how you’d cope during and after The Big One doesn’t mean you are paranoid. It means you are smart. It means you are choosing not to keep relying on denial as a coping mechanism. It means that when the time comes you have a better chance to be a survivor rather than a victim.

FOR FURTHER RESEARCH

http://www.oregon.gov/omd/oem

http://www.ready.gov/be-informed

http://www.redcross.org/local/or/preparedness

[i] Hansen, Kara. “Breach of Scoggins Dam could send damage downstream to Lake Oswego, West Linn”. portlandtribune.com. Pamplin Media Group. January 2, 2014. Web. August 11, 2015

[ii] Driessen, Katherine. “Federal earthquake study of Scoggins Dam could yield millions in local construction costs”. oregonlive.com . The Oregonian. September 27, 2012. Web. August 11, 2015

[iii] Average daily traffic volume in 2013 was 140,600 vehicles, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation. “2013 Transportation Volume Tables”. oregon.gov . Oregon Department of Transportation. September 2014. Web. August 11, 2015

[iv] Although not earthquake caused, a tunnel on Hwy. 26 did collapse in 1999, killing one man. See: Anderson, Stephen F. “Tunnel Collapses in Oregon, 1 Dead”.apnewsarchive. Associated Press News Archive. January 29, 1999. Web. August 10, 2015

[v] Article provides a link to a wider study that evaluates all bridges in the Portland area. Mirk, Sarah. “What are the Worst Oregon Bridges?” portlandmercury.com . Index Newspapers LLC. March 31, 2011. Web. August 11, 2015

[vi] “Cascadia: Oregon’s Greatest Natural Threat”. oregon.gov . Oregon Office of Emergency Management. February 28, 2013. Web. August 10, 2015

[vii] OregonOEM. “Earthquakes and Tsunamis in Oregon!” Video of presentation to Seaside, OR, residents. YouTube. YouTube. April 23, 2013. Web. August 10, 2015

[viii] “Aftershock-Find your Cascadia quake story”. opb.org . n.d. Web. July 25, 2015

[ix] “#unpreparednw” . twitter.com . Twitter. n.d. Web. August 10, 2015

[x] Lechliter, Gary J., and Frank N. Willis. “Living With Earthquakes: Beliefs And Information.” Psychological Record 46.2 (1996): 391. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 8 Aug. 2015

[xi] KARANCI, A. NURAY, BAHATTIN AKSIT, and GULAY DIRIK. “Impact Of A Community Disaster Awareness Training Program In Turkey: Does It Influence Hazard-Related Cognitions And Preparedness Behaviors?.” Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal 33.3 (2005): 243-258. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Aug. 2015

[xii] “Map Your Neighborhood”. Beavertonoregon.gov/emergency . City of Beaverton Emergency /CERT Department-Community Resources. n.d. Web. August 10, 2015

[xiii] “Neighborhood Resources Inventory”. Beavertonoregon.gov/emergency . City of Beaverton Emergency /CERT Department-Community Resources. n.d. Web. August 10, 2015

[xiv] OPBWeb. “Turning Off The Gas To Your Home In Case Of An Emergency”. Online instructional video. YouTube. YouTube. June 4, 2015. Web. August 10, 2015

[xv] OPBWeb. “Securing Water In Your Home After Disaster”. Online instructional video. YouTube. YouTube. May 8 2015. Web. August 10, 2015

[xvi] CNN. “Japan quake survivor: ‘Oh, my god, the building’s gonna fall!’”. On air interview. YouTube. YouTube. March 11, 2011. Web. August 10, 2015

[xvii] Foden-Vencil, Kristian. “Will Portland Look Like Christchurch After Earthquake?” opb.org. OPB News. February 20, 2015, updated March 5, 2015. Web. August 10, 2015

[1] Hansen, Kara. “Breach of Scoggins Dam could send damage downstream to Lake Oswego, West Linn”. portlandtribune.com. Pamplin Media Group. January 2, 2014. Web. August 11, 2015

[1] Driessen, Katherine. “Federal earthquake study of Scoggins Dam could yield millions in local construction costs”. oregonlive.com . The Oregonian. September 27, 2012. Web. August 11, 2015

[1] Average daily traffic volume in 2013 was 140,600 vehicles, according to the Oregon Department of Transportation. “2013 Transportation Volume Tables”. oregon.gov . Oregon Department of Transportation. September 2014. Web. August 11, 2015

[1] Although not earthquake caused, a tunnel on Hwy. 26 did collapse in 1999, killing one man. See: Anderson, Stephen F. “Tunnel Collapses in Oregon, 1 Dead”.apnewsarchive. Associated Press News Archive. January 29, 1999. Web. August 10, 2015

[1] Article provides a link to a wider study that evaluates all bridges in the Portland area. Mirk, Sarah. “What are the Worst Oregon Bridges?” portlandmercury.com . Index Newspapers LLC. March 31, 2011. Web. August 11, 2015

[1] “Cascadia: Oregon’s Greatest Natural Threat”. oregon.gov . Oregon Office of Emergency Management. February 28, 2013. Web. August 10, 2015

[1] OregonOEM. “Earthquakes and Tsunamis in Oregon!” Video of presentation to Seaside, OR, residents. YouTube. YouTube. April 23, 2013. Web. August 10, 2015

[1] “Aftershock-Find your Cascadia quake story”. opb.org . n.d. Web. July 25, 2015

[1] “#unpreparednw” . twitter.com . Twitter. n.d. Web. August 10, 2015

[1] Lechliter, Gary J., and Frank N. Willis. “Living With Earthquakes: Beliefs And Information.” Psychological Record 46.2 (1996): 391. MasterFILE Premier. Web. 8 Aug. 2015

[1] KARANCI, A. NURAY, BAHATTIN AKSIT, and GULAY DIRIK. “Impact Of A Community Disaster Awareness Training Program In Turkey: Does It Influence Hazard-Related Cognitions And Preparedness Behaviors?.” Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal 33.3 (2005): 243-258. Academic Search Premier. Web. 8 Aug. 2015

[1] “Map Your Neighborhood”. Beavertonoregon.gov/emergency . City of Beaverton Emergency /CERT Department-Community Resources. n.d. Web. August 10, 2015

[1] “Neighborhood Resources Inventory”. Beavertonoregon.gov/emergency . City of Beaverton Emergency /CERT Department-Community Resources. n.d. Web. August 10, 2015

[1] OPBWeb. “Turning Off The Gas To Your Home In Case Of An Emergency”. Online instructional video. YouTube. YouTube. June 4, 2015. Web. August 10, 2015

[1] OPBWeb. “Securing Water In Your Home After Disaster”. Online instructional video. YouTube. YouTube. May 8 2015. Web. August 10, 2015

[1] CNN. “Japan quake survivor: ‘Oh, my god, the building’s gonna fall!’”. On air interview. YouTube. YouTube. March 11, 2011. Web. August 10, 2015

[1] Foden-Vencil, Kristian. “Will Portland Look Like Christchurch After Earthquake?” opb.org. OPB News. February 20, 2015, updated March 5, 2015. Web. August 10, 2015

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4 comments

  1. Sharlene Lal

    Your project was really eye opening! I never realized how serious this could be until I read your writing. I am really fascinated with your community work, and I think it is very admirable, and it was a really good idea. The part that really concerned me was when you gave the example of parents not being able to call their kids to make sure they were okay until a few days after a natural disaster. Although I do not have kids, I am living with my parents right now, and I do not think I would know what to do if I could not contact my parents. Your writing has made me realize that I am not prepared at all for what could happen, and I need to take action to make sure that I know what to do in this kind of situation.
    In addition to how informative your writing is, I also really like the ways you have stated to get involved. It has motivated me to go out and talk to my neighbors to come up with a plan in case anything does occur. In addition to myself, I want to make sure my neighborhood is prepared and that they know what to do in response to a natural disaster. I know that if something like this happened today, I would be in panic. I have never discussed this issue with my parents or neighbors, and know I realize that it is much more serious than most individuals make it out to be. It is not just being trapped in your house for a couple days. There is a chance we could run out of food, and I5 could be underwater. This is a really good topic to write about, and I really enjoyed reading it because it helped me realize what I need to change in my own life.

  2. JJ

    Commenting here so I can be notified if there are any additional comments. Which feels completely silly.

  3. Nathaniel Bilton

    Judy, it looks like you did a lot of great revisions to your blog. I really like how it is organized with helpful links. Also, a numbered list of things people can do seems like a perfect way to boil it down to a specific action plan for readers. Great job!

  4. Sindia

    I see you are strongly concerned about how people including myself get easy with possible weather disasters. I would say that you are right in your blog. We should have a plan and supplies to live for at least few days. My present life is so complicated and stressful that thinking in a natural catastrophe disaster is the last thing in my mind. You make me realized that I need to work in a plan as soon as possible.
    I hope people realize that things like this can happen in any moment, and we need to be prepared.
    Your blog is definitely well done, and you persuaded me with all the supporting reading.
    I appreciate your concern.
    Thanks Judy for sharing it.

    -Sindia-

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