Are Oregonians Ready For 'The Big One'?

By April Baer (OPB)
Portland, OR March 16, 2011 6 a.m.

As horrific as Japan's quake and tsunami disaster turned out to be, experts say it could have been worse, had the country not prepared so extensively. The West Coast faces similar risk for seismic disasters. Oregon agencies say they hope Japan's tragedy is a wake-up call for people here. April Baer reports on what individuals need to do to prepare for an emergency.

The people who respond to emergencies say one of the hardest parts of their job --  before disaster strikes - is getting people's attention. William Warren coordinates a Portland city program that offers free classes in disaster preparation at the neighborhood level.


William Warren: "Depending on the specific needs of your community, either the county or the region you're in, you kind of have to tailor what it is your folks will need in event of the big emergency."

For example, since Portland is a transportation hub, an earthquake could cause problems with bridges. Coastal towns have to think about flooding cutting off highway 101.

But disaster experts say preparedness starts with having adequate supplies stored at home.

Gerik Kransky: "I don't really have a plan, I understand that being on the Pacific Rim, Portland is in danger of the Big One."

A diagram of a basic 72-hour emergency kit.

Gerik Kransky ducks his head a bit as he admits he hasn't got around to making an emergency kit or figuring out where he'll go in case of the worst.

Gerik Kransky: "I work downtown, I live in Southeast, and I hope for the best."

Kransky's in pretty good company. Some parts of Oregon are in better shape than others for a disaster. The federal government funded an intensive, four-year tsunami education program for the Oregon coast. Some say that had a lot to do with the generally smooth flow of Friday's coast evacuation.

But risk is not limited to tsunami-prone areas. And much of the responsibility for disaster preparedness lies with Oregonians themselves.


Sue Pickgrobe: "I don't know that we have a plan, but my husband's very prepared."

Sue Pickgrobe of Southwest Portland says she's sure her husband has gathered emergency supplies.

Sue Pickgrobe: "He also 'earthquaked' the house. We did a lot of seismic work before we moved in. So we hope our house won't move."

Pickgrobe and her husband have a leg up on a lot of people. They've stashed three days' supply of food and water, plus other things they'd need.

But while emergency responders say supplies are key, disaster prep really isn't complete without a plan for what to do in case of the worst.

Ted McCall: "I just worry about how I can pick my kids up after an event."

Ted McCall has four children.

Ted McCall: "Like if there is an earthquake - how I can get my whole family back together. That's the scary part."

His children attend different schools, and McCall himself works in yet another part of town. He's thinking about the problems of collecting all of them and shepherding them home to Southwest Portland.

Althea Rizzo: "What we call it is preparing to the Earthquake Standard. If you get ready for an earthquake, you can sustain anything else Mother Nature can throw at you."

Althea Rizzo works on quake preparedness for Oregon's Department of Emergency Management. She says families need to talk in detail about how the logistics would work. Better yet, practice the plan, assuming roads and bridges may be out of commission.

That brings us to what may be the most important element of a solid emergency plan. In addition to supplies and a plan, everyone needs good information during a crisis. Oregon's counties practice many methods of getting the word out. Not every county can afford automated phone alert system calls. Even on Friday, sirens and phone calls didn't always work to get the word out at the coast.

Most emergency planners recommend having some kind of self-powered radio with your kit, since by the time the earth shakes, cell phones and internet may be out of commission.

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