Unprepared: Will We Be Ready For The Megaquake In Oregon?

As Disaster Scenario Starts, Participants See Gaps In Planning

By OPB Staff (OPB)
May 16, 2015 8:25 p.m.
The Alexanders practice an emergency drill under their table during the earthquake simulation.

The Alexanders practice an emergency drill under their table during the earthquake simulation.

Amanda Peacher / OPB

Krista Eddy grabbed her 2-year-old son, Quinn, early Saturday morning and dashed under her kitchen table. As she sat there waiting for the "shaking" of a simulated 9.0 earthquake to stop, she wondered whether the table would actually withstand heavy objects and debris falling on it.


"I would be terrified," she said, were the scenario real.

Krista, Quinn and the boy's father, Patrick Alexander, were among four households that tested their early responses to a major earthquake as part of OPB's "Living Off Your Quake Kit" weekend.

On Saturday morning, they all began their day with this message denoting the start of the simulated quake:

This morning, at 7:30 a.m., Oregon experienced a 9.0 Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake off its coast. This is the "big one" that you've heard about. It's the megaquake. You feel the severe shaking for about 4 minutes… Where are you when this is happening? What are you doing?

While the earthquake wasn't real, the families participating in the dry run made it as close to reality as they could — and quickly found some of their preparation plans were lacking.

John and Megan Stephens found they had very different ideas of what to do when the shaking starts. Megan wanted drop, cover and hold on, as the American Red Cross recommends. But John, a coordinator for Mercy Corps, was worried their 100-year-old home and mass-produced furniture wouldn't hold up.

The Johnson Family's first aid kit.

The Johnson Family's first aid kit.

John Rosman / OPB

“My first instinct is just to get out of the house. In the earthquakes I’ve been in overseas, people just run,” John said.

Older buildings, particularly masonry buildings that haven't been upgraded and reinforced, are the most likely to collapse in a major earthquake. Eventually, the Stephens family decides to evacuate to their backyard and turn their attention to first aid.


Anatomy Of A First Aid Kit

The American Red Cross recommends a first aid kit contains the following:

  • 2 absorbent compress dressings (5 x 9 inches)
  • 25 adhesive bandages (assorted sizes)
  • 1 adhesive cloth tape (10 yards x 1 inch)
  • 5 antibiotic ointment packets (approximately 1 gram)
  • 5 antiseptic wipe packets
  • 2 packets of aspirin (81 mg each)
  • 1 blanket (space blanket)
  • 1 breathing barrier (with one-way valve)
  • 1 instant cold compress
  • 2 pair of nonlatex gloves (size: large)
  • 2 hydrocortisone ointment packets (approximately 1 gram each)
  • Scissors
  • 1 roller bandage (3 inches wide)
  • 1 roller bandage (4 inches wide)
  • 5 sterile gauze pads (3 x 3 inches)
  • 5 sterile gauze pads (4 x 4 inches)
  • Oral thermometer
  • 2 triangular bandages
  • Tweezers
  • First aid instruction booklet

John has lots of first aid experience, while Megan and their two children don't. That could be a problem if they're separated during an earthquake.

"If you’re not here, I’ll be so pissed at you,” Megan said. “I need some more training.”

“If one of us has knowledge about something and the other one doesn’t, it’s a big assumption that we’re both going to be here at the same time experiencing the same problems,”  John said. “That’s what’s great about this weekend, it’s revealing some of these gaps."

Meanwhile, the Johnson family in southeast Portland found their first aid kit lacking. With a large window above their bed, they worried that broken glass could fall on them or the floor during an earthquake.

Sara Johnson examined their first aid kit, surveying the bandages, gauze wrap, antibacterial gel and other items.

“We need a better one," she said. While their kit has many items, it's still less than what the American Red Cross recommends.

Jay Wilson, chairman of the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission, said the Johnsons could also consider purchasing "earthquake glass film." The specially designed film can minimize glass debris if it shatters.

Once the immediate needs of safety were met, the families began thinking about longer term needs, such as water.

Patrick Alexander, who lives in Lincoln City, brought out of three 320-ounce water containers from the garage, a store that they’ve had since they bought their home.

“This is vintage water,” said Krista.

Patrick dusts dirt off the top of the jug. It’s been in the garage a while. They realize that most of the water from one of the three containers is leaked, leaving them with two-thirds of their supply.