Preparing for the worst
Since the New Yorker published the article "The Really Big One" in 2015, Pacific Northwesterners have become keenly aware and regularly reminded about the Cascadia Subduction Zone and the impending mega earthquake it's likely to cause. To help residents get ready and know what to expect, the Red Cross's talk "Prepare Out Loud" is coming to Wilsonville Nov. 14.
Stretching from Vancouver Island, Canada, to Northern California, the Cascadia Subduction Zone is a sloping fault line and the boundary between the Juan de Fuca and North American plates. According to geologists and the geological record running along the fault, the Cascadia Subduction Zone experiences periodic earthquakes that relieve the ever-mounting tension that builds as the Juan de Fuca Plate slides under the North American Plate.
"The Pacific Northwest has the longest earthquake history that can be gleaned by science in the entire world," said Steven Eberlein, American Red Cross donor development officer and presenter of Prepare Out Loud. "We actually have record of 43 major earthquakes — that we know about — in the last 10,000 years. That's a longer timeline of physical evidence than even Japan has of earthquake history. So we know that we have one every roughly 240 years, based on recurrence intervals, and it's been 317 years since the last one. You can't predict when earthquakes happen, but we have been waiting longer for this one than we usually do."
Because the fault sits just off the Oregon coast, when the fault releases the abnormally high amount of pressure that is still building, geologists predict that the subsequent earthquake will be a magnitude 9-plus that will wreck havoc on the state. In order to prepare for this event, Eberlein and his team hope to change the conversation surrounding earthquake preparedness from one of skepticism and accusations of paranoia to one of normalcy.
"I was in Sri Lanka in 2004 when the tsunami hit," Eberlein said. "That's the reason for my particular interest in the Cascadia Subduction Zone. I'm a native Oregonian and I've seen the impact of a tsunami and the recovery efforts. After moving back to Oregon and learning that we're in a subduction zone, I felt compelled to share what I know."
During the talk, Eberlein goes in-depth into the science of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, the history of earthquakes in the area and how the human brain reacts to crises of this nature.
"People have an idea of how they're going to react in a disaster and then they're disappointed with their reaction because their smart brain goes away and their more primordial brain takes over and makes them do things that are unwise," Eberlein said. "So we help you understand what's actually going on and why it's important to practice for a disaster."
He also covers what a major earthquake will do to Oregon's infrastructure — particularly in Wilsonville — and the need for survival kits.
"As soon as the event hits, everyone is going to expect a massive response to happen almost immediately, because, 'I need water right now, therefore the government is coming in with cargo planes to help us' and everybody is looking at the sky waiting for that to happen," Eberlein said. "But we have to talk about infrastructure so that people understand that the response is going to be delayed and hence why we need to be ready for a long period of time without daily utilities."
Eberlein likens the aftermath of a major disaster to spontaneous camping. And no one wants to find themselves suddenly stuck in the wilderness without the essentials. Yet, that doesn't mean that everyone is on board with the concept of getting ready.
"There are a lot of naysayers still out there that say it isn't going to happen or it's going to happen 1,000 years from now so we don't have to worry about it," Eberlein said. "But once you understand the science, it shuts down the naysayers."
Getting the facts out and helping people wrap their heads around the idea of a looming disaster that could strike at any moment is mentally and emotionally challenging, Eberlein said. Through planning and practice, he says that a lot of people's tension and anxiety surrounding the topic can be alleviated.
"We're trying to normalize preparedness," he said. "That's the most important thing that we can do to get more people to prepare... Unpreparedness in a subduction zone shouldn't be normal, but that's where we're at right now."
Unlike many other fire-and-brimstone preparedness talks that are making the rounds, Eberlein said that his presentation is 100 percent visual, light-hearted, humorous and very much a conversation. Although Eberlein has done at least 80 preparedness talks, he says that someone always manages to ask him a new question at each event.
"People will often say that they've gone to X number of preparedness presentations and that they heard things that they had never heard before or took away a better understanding of how a subduction zone actually works," Eberlein said. "So even if you're already a nut about preparedness and earthquake science, I guarantee that you'll enjoy this."
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Prepare Out Loud
WHEN: Nov. 14 from 6-7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Grace Chapel, 9600 S.W. Boeckman Road