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A recent study reveals that we can no longer afford to postpone local efforts to prepare for the next major earthquake

Three years ago, Kathryn Schulz did us all a huge favor. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist penned a story for The New Yorker about the effects of a devastating earthquake off the coast of Oregon.

Her article, published in the magazine's July 2015 issue, clocked in at just over 6,000 words, but a two-sentence passage near the top got the most attention:

"By the time the shaking has ceased and the tsunami has receded, the region will be unrecognizable. Kenneth Murphy, who directs FEMA's Region X, the division responsible for Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska, says, 'Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.'"

The "toast" quote got picked up by the national media and the story, which netted Schulz another Pulitzer, created regional aftershocks that could be felt the rest of the year, as government agencies, nonprofits and news organizations churned out advice on how to prepare for "the big one."

This month, a trio of authors for the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries sounded another wake-up call. John Bauer, William Burns and Ian Madin can't match Schulz's deft writing style or fluid narrative flow, but they dropped some serious data that wasn't available to the journalist.

Their study, released March 15, offers another chance for us to focus on a catastrophic event that is not a matter of "if" but "when."

Using tools that weren't available even two years ago, the researchers were able to match soil conditions, building characteristics and demographic data to come up with details that went well beyond analogies to burnt bread. And they are not pretty.

As Pamplin Media Group's Steve Law reported, researchers found that a magnitude 9.0 earthquake centered off the Oregon Coast would cause tens of thousands of severe injuries and deaths in the Portland area.

"In Portland alone, the study calculates 119 to 896 immediate deaths from a major Cascadia earthquake, depending on when it occurs, plus hundreds to thousands more life-threatening injuries and people requiring hospitalization," Law wrote.

Even those who escape without injury will be impacted. Thousands of residents will be displaced from their homes, and the region faces tens of billions of dollars in building damage. And the report also emphasizes that it's not just people living west of I-5 who should be prepared. "No community will be unharmed," according to the study.

In Lake Oswego, for example, anywhere between 50 and 258 people would be killed or injured immediately. Of Lake Oswego's 13,770 buildings, between 5-8 percent would be damaged or destroyed and 220-1,207 people would be permanently displaced.

So, once again, a disturbing document offers an opportunity for us to respond. But how? Here are some ideas.

Think like a Boy Scout: As individuals, we must adopt the Boy Scout creed and "be prepared" at home and work, and that means going beyond stashing a flashlight, tarp and case of bottled water in the garage. The regional office of the American Red Cross has various tools to help you plan. Check them out at

Be neighborly: Even if your supplies are safely stored, they won't last long if you need to come to the aid of all your neighbors. PREP, a coalition of metro-area first responders and neighborhood associations, can help guide those who want to organize at the community level. Learn more at

Identify critical facilities: The study did not identify the seismic resilience of public buildings, but local governments should do so — and focus on fire stations, which are the logical spot for first responders to gather and community members to look for help.

Learn from New Zealand: Seven years ago, a magnitude 6.3 quake rocked Christchurch, New Zealand, which has a similar topography to the Pacific Northwest. The shocks leveled scores of buildings and killed 185 people. But the damage could have been much worse had the government not been proactive a decade earlier and reinforced hundreds of public schools. Although the earthquake occurred during a school day, there were no fatalities in school buildings. What's more, the New Zealand government provides earthquake coverage on every homeowner policy, which was key to the region's residents' ability to rebuild. And following the quake, the New Zealand government offered financial help to small businesses to allow them to resume operations.

As we've seen in other parts of the country, it's easy to put off the costly preparation for a disaster that likely won't happen tomorrow, only to find that all those tomorrows suddenly become today. But as individuals and communities, we must take advantage of heightened public awareness to move forward on such plans.

This month's report offers us just such a chance. We should seize it.

— Pamplin Media Group Editorial Board

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