The Great Oregon Shakeout

Today is the official anniversary of the largest known earthquake to strike the Pacific Northwest: the 1700 Cascadia Earthquake. Estimated to be between 8.7 and 9.2 magnitude, this 300 year old quake is a powerful reminder that we live in a seismically active area. And to celebrate the occasion, various state agencies decided to initiate the Great Oregon Shakeout. Modeled after California’s drill, the point of the simulation was to practice earthquake safety and to raise the general publics awareness of the dangers associated with living along a subduction zone. Even our Canadian neighbors in B.C. got their groove on and had their own drill.

If all this seems like news to you, I have a feeling that you’re not alone. Aside from a few random tweets from the USGS in Oregon, there wasn’t much in the way of media coverage to alert people to such an event. Most of the people in the geology department I talked to weren’t even aware of it. I find this disappointing because there was a tremendous opportunity lost to educate people about earthquake hazards. I thought the states largest newspaper, The Oregonian, had failed to report on it until I found this. Apparently, somewhere in that rats nest you’ll find some information.

I’m not trying to lay blame at any one source. The lack of media coverage could have been the fault of DOGAMI, or any number of participating state agencies. Or it could be that the larger news organizations just didn’t feel that it was sensational enough to report on. All I know is that 37,000 out of  3.8 million   Oregonians participated in today’s event. I’m willing to wager that’s the population of east Portland or slightly less than Corvallis. To me, that number is unacceptable as it failed to get the message out to more than 1% of the population. Imagine what would happen if only that 1% survived the next earthquake.

It may seem like I’m being critical, but if you look at the numbers from the other shakeouts, you’ll see why. California had the highest turnout, with over a million participating. British Columbia came in at 460,000 while Oregon was sitting at around 37,000 (if the websites numbers are to be believed). Why such the disparity? It could be that California expects earthquakes because they experience them on a rather frequent basis. Practicing quake drills may not seem like such a “boy crying wolf” fairy tale to most Californians. Maybe in Oregon, the threat doesn’t seem as real and people don’t feel the urgency to prepare. And, unless B.C. experiences more earthquakes than us, how does one explain the greater participation there?

Now, before I seem shrill and on the ignorant side, I did do some digging around to find out which news organizations posted something. Here’s the list I came up with:

There’s probably a few more I’m missing, so if anyone has other sources, let me know and I’ll add it to the list.

Also, I’d like to point out that my friend Lockwood, over at Outside The Interzone, has a great post written about the same topic. I also should say that today made me realize how woefully unprepared my partner and I are for when the big one hits. To echo Lockwoods’ sentiments, the earthquake may not hit tomorrow or even in the next ten years, but that’s no excuse to not be prepared.