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At Sustainability Network event on May 14, expert will share 'lessons from Japan and beyond'



SUBMITTED PHOTO - Pyrch.Take it from Jan Castle: You can’t talk about emergency preparedness without discussing sustainability.

“We are currently depleting the Earth’s resources one-and-a-half-times faster than they can be replenished through the natural cycles,” says Castle, one of the founders of the Lake Oswego Sustainability Network. “When you use (resources) more efficiently — when you use only the water that falls on your property through rain, or energy that falls on your property, as in solar — when you do that, you find yourself in a very good position if your supplies and resources are interrupted suddenly (by a catastrophe).”

To that end, the Sustainability Network has partnered with the city to host “Surviving a 9.0: Lessons from Japan and Beyond,” a free presentation scheduled for 7-9 p.m. on Thursday, May 14, in the Willamette Room of the West End Building, 4101 Kruse Way.

Featured speaker Allison Pyrch is a geotechnical engineer who served with a delegation that traveled to Japan in the wake of 2011’s devastating earthquake. The trip was commissioned by the Oregon Legislature and culminated in the Oregon Resilience Plan.

The 341-page report, submitted to the Legislature in February 2013, outlines vulnerabilities statewide related to the Cascadia subduction zone, "an active fault that poses a major geological hazard to Oregon." The study is intended to shape policy and investment priorities in the coming 50 years so that Oregon can better position itself to "survive and bounce back from" a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami.

"No one can predict the next time the Cascadia fault will rupture, and today is just as likely as 50 years from now," the report warns.

Pyrch puts it more succinctly.

“One of the lessons is: Japan is prepared and we’re not,” she says.

During Pyrch’s time in Japan, she focused on infrastructure “lifelines” — transportation, electricity, communication, fuel, water and wastewater — and concluded they remained surprisingly intact, despite the devastating earthquake that claimed just under 16,000 lives throughout the country.

“They use the same types of engineering that we do now in our newer structures," Pyrch says of Japan. "They’ve just been doing it longer.”

It wasn’t until 1994 that Oregon’s infrastructure was built with a focus on seismic design, she says, adding that Japan also has a higher replacement rate within its infrastructure and that the country spends more money on maintenance.

One reason, Pyrch theorizes, is that Japan is a more “risk-averse society” with an approach to preparedness informed by the frequency of significant seismic events that occur there.

“The No. 1 difference between Chile or Japan and the U.S. is that they have an earthquake culture. We do not have an earthquake culture,” Pyrch says. “Our public is woefully under-informed about the risk."

Broadly speaking, structures in Oregon and throughout much of the country are built "for life safety," Pyrch explains. "That means that (structures) do not endanger lives, but that does not mean (a building) will be usable after" a catastrophic seismic event.

She estimates that it costs an additional 15 percent to upgrade structures from “life safety” to resiliency.

"Hospitals, fire stations — those are built to a higher standard, because they're critical structures," Pyrch says.

But the tide is changing. She has seen a shift in American thinking after notable interruptions to infrastructure, as in the wake of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast in 2012.

"Everybody's starting to realize this is something we should consider," Pyrch says.

Castle agrees.

“It’s about working with the forces of nature, rather than against them, to really face what’s coming,” she says. “We can’t stop the Earth from moving, but we can stop our buildings and bridges and roads from crumbling if we pay attention to them.”

The May 14 talk will address how some of the solutions begin at the local level, Castle says: In Lake Oswego, neighborhood associations already are starting to establish neighborhood preparation programs.

“The talk is really geared to the general public so people can understand what the risks are, get an idea of what the state and the counties and cities are doing to prepare the infrastructure that people depend on," Castle says. "The goal is to inspire individual citizens to do their own preparation for their own homes.”

For more information, contact the Sustainability Network at 503-636-6709.

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