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Preparedness panel tells the Portland Business Alliance to learn the lessons of the past year.

PMG FILE PHOTO - The snow storm that knocked out power for much of the region capped a year marred by a pandemic, recession, protest violence and wildfires.Sometimes it seems that the past 12 months couldn't have been any worse in the Portland area. The pandemic, recession, protest violence, forest fires and snow storm tested everyone, and pushed some out of their homes and onto the streets.

But things will be much worse one day.

That was the message from a panel of preparedness experts speaking to the Portland Bureau Alliance on Wednesday, March 17. Scientists say a large Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake will hit the region sometime in the future — toppling buildings, knocking out power and water, disrupting transportation and hindering emergency responses for weeks, months and maybe much longer.

"I think that after the past year, we're in a better position to say: Something is going to happen and we'd better get ready for it," said Portland State University President Dr. Stephen Percy, whose school now is offering classes in Emergency Management and Community Resiliency.

Percy spoken on a panel titled "Are You Ready for What's Next?" He and the other panelists agreed that no matter how the last year may have worn people down, now is the time to learn lessons from it to better prepare for the worst.

"We need to take advantage of what the last year has given us. When the earthquake happens, it's going to take all of us working together to get through it," said Bill Messner, director of wildfire mitigation and resiliency for Portland General Electric.

PMG PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - A runner jogs past a road closure sign near the Eastmoreland Golf Course in February. The snow storm in February caused downed trees and power lines, leaving many households without power for days in Portland. Emergency preparedness experts say the snow storm, last year's wildfires and the prospect of an earthquake should remind the region to prepare for the next emergency.Percy, Messner and the others urged every person, family, small business and large company to have an emergency plan that includes supplies of food and water, knowing where to find friends and family members, keeping businesses viable through the disruptions, and cleaning up after the crisis eases.

"It will cost you more if you don't have a plan than if you prepare one," said Fred Scalera, lead market development manager for FirstNet Programs, an emergency communications company.

The final panelist was Dr. Carlos Mena, Nike professor of supply chain management at Portland State University. He said that research conducted shortly before the pandemic struck last year found that one-third of large companies did not have an emergency plan. Even so, they are more likely to survive a disaster than small businesses, which may not have any cash reserves.

"Most small businesses don't know how to apply to the government for help. That's something that can be learned (before the next disaster)," Mena said.

Percy noted that disaster preparedness should include flexibility for building back better. He noted that PSU first opened in Vanport in 1946 and was wiped out by the flood that destroyed the community two years later. It moved three times before settling in at its current home in downtown Portland in 1952. Since then, PSU has grown into Oregon's most diverse urban public research university with 26,000 students and more than 200 degree programs. It offers courses for a Emergency Management and Community Resiliency certificate, but will be offering graduate-level classes in the field in the fall.

The forum was moderated by Dana Haynes, managing editor of the Portland Tribune, which sponsored the panel, along with Key Bank and PSU.

The Portland Business Alliance is the Greater Portland Chamber of Commerce. It advocates for business at all levels of government to support commerce, community health and the region's overall prosperity.


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