Amid a pandemic that has left over 4.9 million people dead worldwide, dozens of nations are taking time out Thursday to prepare for another mass killer: earthquakes.
The "Great ShakeOut" is a global earthquake drill that will take place at 10:21 a.m. More than 25 million people — including 14.1 million Americans — will simultaneously practice the first steps of surviving an earthquake:
• Drop onto your hands and knees
•Cover your head and neck
•Crawl to a sturdy desk or table nearby
•Hold On until the shaking stops
About 500,000 Oregonians have signed-up to take part this year, according to the Oregon Office of Emergency Management.
"Understanding what to do in the first few moments after a disaster can mean the difference between being a survivor and a victim," said OEM Director Andrew Phelps in a statement released before the event.
One of the few upsides of the COVID-19 pandemic is it has made people around the world more attuned to a proactive "culture of preparedness."
International organizers say they are aware of the extra challenges of thinking about and preparing for earthquakes amid the natural disaster of coronavirus nearing its two-year mark in December.
"While COVID-19 has brought many uncertainties and challenges, one thing's for sure, ShakeOut is still happening," said an announcement.
The drill is a reminder in Oregon of a possible Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake on a 680-mile rift in the Pacific Ocean running from British Columbia to Northern California.
The 9.0 earthquake would kill up to 10,000 people in Oregon — with half of the casualties dying in tsunamis that would inundate the coast, according to state studies.
Up to 25,000 could die from Vancouver, Canada to Fort Bragg, California, according to The Cascadia Region Earthquake Workgroup, a non-profit that includes governments, businesses, communities and other groups working on a region-wide study of disaster recovery.
In Oregon, more than 85,000 buildings could be destroyed, the state estimates. West of the Cascades, much of the infrastructure of the modern world would collapse: communications, water, sewer, and electrical systems would fail. Hospitals would be wrecked. Roads and airports west of the Cascades would likely be unusable.
Even traveling by boat with rescue supplies for the coast would be in danger of debris and being hit by after-tsunamis.
The Cascades mountains would act as a natural "firewall" against the earthquake, with damage to the east of the peaks light or moderate at worst.
Oregon officials have designated Bend as the closest major population area to organize rescue and recovery efforts and re-establish state government.
With its runways likely intact or relatively easy to repair, the Redmond airport would be the site of airlifts of supplies and emergency response crews that would then be flown by helicopter to help victims to the west.
The Cascadia quake would likely leave large areas isolated for weeks, while repairs would last for several years. The official state price tag for repair and recovery is $40 billion.
The magnitude of an Oregon earthquake threat is a relatively recent discovery.
Beginning in the 1980s, geological surveys, Native American oral traditions and meticulous Japanese tidal records led to an estimate the last 9.0 earthquake occurred in January 1700.
Subsequent studies of the deep rift indicate there have been up to 41 major earthquakes along the zone, spread out at variable intervals, but averaging about one every 500 years.
With geological time sequences measured in centuries and decades instead of hours and minutes, the 321 years since the 1700 earthquake puts Oregon today within the parameters of the next earthquake.
The state is aiming to get every resident to create an emergency plan, including gathering two weeks worth of water, food, medicines and other necessities. Not only will this help in the event of an earthquake, but also storms, floods and other natural disasters.
Shakeout.org, based at the Southern California Earthquake Center at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles has information on earthquakes and drills around the world.
For more information about Oregon's participation, go to https://www.shakeout.org/oregon/
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