When your work is earthquakes, it's hard not to take the job home with you
As a hazards geographer working for the U.S. Geological Survey, Hillsdale resident Nate Wood thinks every day about the major earthquake destined to strike here. He works to better understand what could happen so that
you and I can better prepare for it.
Wood's primary research has been helping communities along the Pacific Northwest coast understand how to evacuate in the minutes before an earthquake-caused tsunami strikes. He has also been part of state and
regional efforts to describe what else large earthquakes could do to communities here in the Willamette Valley and up to Seattle.
But he brings his concerns home from work. He applies his knowledge to Southwest Portland, Hillsdale, his immediate neighborhood and his own family. With daughters at Rieke Elementary School and Robert Gray
Middle School, he has considered scenarios his family and other families might face should an earthquake strike.
"What if you work on the east side of town?" he asks. "You probably won't be able to get home by the bridges, which will likely be compromised." It could take days for inspections and even weeks or months for repairs and
reopening. And if parents or back-up neighborhood guardians (Have you designated yours?) are stranded, are the schools capable of handling children for two
days or even more?
What if cell towers have been knocked out? Where are the
communications centers? He notes that in Southwest Portland, Gabriel Park and Wilson High School are designated centers. For others, visit the
web site www.portlandoregon.gov/pbem/59630
When Wood is out and about in Southwest Portland, he notes the construction of buildings he is about to enter. If a building relies on unreinforced masonry, as many old buildings do, he hesitates to linger in them. The good news, Wood points out, is that most homes in Southwest
are constructed of wood and are more likely to survive a quake, particularly if framing is bolted to the foundation. The vulnerable point in most of our homes are their brick chimneys. They are likely to fall, opening gaping holes in roofs. Wood joins with all emergency officials in urging preparation. Last year he gave Rieke Elementary School parents a Power Point presentation on the subject. Anchor bookshelves to the wall, strap down your water heater, bolt your house to its foundation, be prepared to fix windows, chimney and roof damage.
Safely stockpile necessities.
Earthquake preparedness information abounds on-line.
So why, despite being warned, will many of us do none of the above?
Wood shares the all-too-familiar reasons:
• We've never experienced a disaster, so why trust those urging us to prepare?
• We believe our actions won't make a difference anyway, so why worry?
• This earthquake would be huge, so it is a government responsibility, not ours, to prepare.
• No one else in the community seems to be taking this seriously. Why should we?
To surmount these barriers to preparedness, Wood urged parents to focus on positive outcomes. Think of your values, your love of the people around you. Think of how in a disaster, your family and even your neighbors will be
counting on you. Think of how being prepared will make you feel more in control and better able to act.
After talking with Wood, I was left with the question about whether the schools were prepared to house students unclaimed for three or four days. I put in a call to Kyle Olsen, the emergency manager at Portland Public
Schools. Olsen said that, at best, most schools have been upgraded so that safe evacuation is possible. Schools, though equipped with some emergency supplies, aren't prepared to house students after an earthquake. They may not be safe to re-enter. Instead students separated
from parents or guardians will be transferred to "relocation centers," which are likely to be outdoors and supported with city, county and federal help and supplies. He added that because disasters are unpredictable in the
damage they might cause, decision makers — from teachers to parents to emergency officials — must "think critically" about what needs to be done and when.
Wood, Olsen and countless others tell us that when disaster strikes, we may well find ourselves escaping a once habitable neighborhood or city.
But right now, they tell us, the one escape we need most is from our own complacency and inaction.
Martie Sucec, who died in April, was a friend and a sharp but valued critic. She was passionate, smart, outspoken, righteous and, far more often than not, flat-out right. She was also wise and critical of herself. When her passion carried her "beyond her Light," she was known to
openly share her regret and apologize. Martie will be sorely missed. May her luminous spirit live on among us.