Recently developed emergency operations plans will help as will upgraded water, sewer infrastructure

by: JASON CHANEY - The Prineville Police Department building would collapse during a major earthquake.

As people throughout the world are aware, earthquakes can

strike suddenly and leave considerable damage and casualties in their wake.

In the event that such a disaster struck in Crook County, local leaders and federal agencies have been working to minimize the impact as much as possible.

Most recently, the Bureau of Reclamation has recently decided to review Ochoco Dam for a second time to determine how the structure would endure a major earthquake.

The agency determined that the dam, just six miles east of Prineville, is part of a seismic area known as the Cascadia Subduction Zone, and therefore has the potential to experience large magnitude earthquakes.

However, the dam is not the only area of concern. The Prineville Police Department building, which also houses the Crook County Jail and the local 911 dispatch center, was the subject of a study.

“It is an older building,” said Prineville Police Captain Michael Boyd. “It has been rated that if there were a substantial earthquake, it would collapse.”

Until they can replace the building, Boyd said they have the option of establishing an alternative dispatch center at the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center (COIDC) facility near the Prineville/Crook County Airport.

“In addition to that, we have connection with the big dispatch center up in Condon,” Boyd continued. “We are a part of that network as well.”

The preparedness doesn't end with structural studies either. The City of Prineville and Crook County have both adopted emergency operations plans that outline a course of action for a variety of disasters including earthquakes.

“It gives us some guidelines and checklists to make sure we stay functioning,” Boyd said.

For Crook County Fire and Rescue (CCFR), their first goal in a major earthquake would be to take care of whatever injuries ensue.

“It is that medical side that is really going to take up our resources,” said CCFR Deputy Chief Casey Kump. “We have different agreements with other agencies and then the State (of Oregon) has ways of coming in and assisting us.”

He went on to note that the last major flood in Crook County forced them to divide their resources, prompting current discussions about how they would do so more effectively during another disaster.

“Where would we go? What command center can we operate out of?” Kump said. “It’s a tough topic to discuss, that's for sure.”

While emergency services personnel prepare for a major earthquake, the community seems more poised to weather such a disaster than they might have been in past years.

“We are an old city, so our infrastructure is pretty dated and relatively susceptible to damage from an earthquake. Old water lines and old sewer lines are not going to flex during an earthquake. They are going to break,” said City Engineer Eric Klann. “With that being said, we have made good improvements to those systems the past couple years.”

Such upgrades include the ongoing replacement of city water lines as well as the upcoming construction of a new 1,000 gallon-per-minute well with a backup power generator, and a 1 million gallon storage tank near the airport.

“In the event of a prolonged power outage, 1,000 gallons per minute will generate almost 1.5 million gallons a day,” Klann said. “Because it is up by the airport, we can push that into almost any pressure zone we have in town. It will drastically increase our ability to survive a prolonged electrical outage.”

As far as local structures go, County Building Official Lou Haehnlen believes the provisions included in the longstanding local building code have resulted in homes and other buildings that will withstand most earthquakes.

“We design most of our buildings for wind as opposed to seismic (activity),” he said, noting that structures are built to withstand three-gusts of up to 80 miles per hour.

The code calls for hold-downs, which are metal rods embedded in the concrete foundation that connect to wall studs.

“We make sure the walls have positive connections and we make sure they are adequately braced,” Haehnlen said. “If we had maybe an 8.5 (Richter scale earthquake) or something over here, there might be some damage. If it’s a 6.5, I don’t know that we’re going to have a whole lot of damages.”

He added that some of the older buildings made with concrete block or brick could be more susceptible to damage. The same could be said for older houses.

“Some of the older 30, 40, or 50-year-old houses may have some problems.”

For all of the studies and emergency planning around a potential earthquake, Dave Dethman, emergency services manager with the Crook County Sheriff's Office, believes location will be critical.

“It depends on where it hits,” he said. “If it’s concentrated in the east end of the county, there isn’t going to be as much property damage. But if it’s right smack dab in town, depending on how big it is”

Nevertheless, he is confident that emergency services leaders and the operations plans they have developed will ably handle the fallout of major earthquake, no matter where in the community it strikes.

“I think we are prepared,” he said.

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