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"Prophet Of Doom" Preaches Tsunami Preparedness

YACHATS, Ore. - The State of Oregon employs its own “prophet of doom” to deliver a quake-up call to anyone who will listen. He’s James Roddey with Oregon’s Department of Geology. His main message is to be better prepared. The Northwest is due for a colossal earthquake and tsunami.

James Roddey : “The same thing could happen here that just happened in Japan.”

Roddey sees a silver lining in Japan’s terrible tsunami tragedy. He says it has opened the minds of previously complacent Northwest residents. Correspondent Tom Banse checked out the prophet’s road show in Yachats, Oregon.

James Roddey is about to preach, although he’s not a minister. He’s on a crusade, though his SUV full of props doesn’t include a revival tent. Event posters do describe him as a prophet.

“People were calling me Chicken Little and I told people, you know I’m not really Chicken Little,” Roddey says. “But I am more or less the Prophet of Doom in some instances. Dr. Doom, Prophet of Doom, you know they all fit the bill for what I do.”

Roddey’s official title is more prosaic.

“I’m the earth sciences information officer with the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries.”

Roddey says he’s on pace to give about 100 talks this year, mostly throughout Oregon, but also a few in Washington state.

His federally-funded mission is to get people to prepare for natural disaster. The March tsunami in Japan has become a central theme, with dramatic clips from Japanese TV.

In the oceanfront town of Yachats, his audience in the community hall is mostly older folks.

“This is Tokyo a week after the earthquake,” Roddey says in his speech. :Go to the grocery store and there’s nothing there because transportation systems - the just-in-time culture - doesn’t work well in an event like this. If this doesn’t convince you to put aside some emergency food and supplies and water, I give up.”

Roddey describes a great earthquake and tsunami as “the most terrifying event you’ll ever go through in your life.”

But then he adds both are eminently survivable.

“We’re the first generation in modern history that understands the risks and consequences of one of these really big earthquakes and tsunamis. How we prepare for it defines us as a people.”

Roddey says a previous career in television production and marketing prepared him to become the “Prophet of Doom.”

“It’s a very fine line you walk between scaring people completely or not getting through to them,” he says.

Roddey got through to audience member Richard Fetrow. Fetrow and his wife live about three blocks from the ocean in Waldport.

“I thought about preparedness before — I have a couple pamphlets on it at home — but I’ve never done anything with it,” Fetrow says. “This is a motivator.”

Another audience member, Jeff Kaufman, says he’s practiced his tsunami evacuation route and has a backpack of emergency supplies stashed in his car.

Roddey’s speech didn’t leave Kaufman scared.

“He’s not a Prophet of Doom at all,” Kaufman says. “He’s an educator and he’s a person who is going to help us put our fear aside and just be ready to handle it if and when, and it certainly is going to happen.”

Roddey says what he’s learned through his job makes him more paranoid than anyone else around.

“If this event happens, it’s going to be awful, but I’m with people who know what to do. So I sleep well at night, even though I have this paranoia.”

He adds, “I consider it a very healthy paranoia.”

Roddey has no illusions about ever being “totally prepared.” He says convincing all levels of society to get ready is “a tough sell.”

Our region on the whole — in his words — is “nowhere near as prepared as we need to be.”

On the Web:

Tsunami education and outreach program:

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