A few minutes of intense shaking, followed by a devastating tsunami, the loss of thousands of lives and widespread destruction to infrastructure that left entire communities cut off from help. It would take years to repair and rebuild. This was the scene in Japan in March of 2011 when a massive 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of the island nation.
But this is also a scene predicted for the Pacific Northwest as the result of a likely massive Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake off the coast of Washington and Oregon. The last time this fault line sparked an earthquake was more than 300 years ago, and experts say we're long overdue for another one. Seismologists put the likelihood of an earthquake similar in strength to the 2011 one that hit Japan striking the Pacific Northwest in the next 50 years at more than 30 percent.
Earlier this month, Portland-based writer Adam Rothstein published a five-part "reported science fiction" series for Vice's Motherboard about the devastation such a quake would have on our region, entitled "After The Big One." Sunday morning, CBS reporter Don Dahler once again focused on the Northwest's pending natural disaster.
It's the latest in a long line of national attention brought to the seismic issues facing this region. Last fall, the New Yorker piece "The Really Big One" exposed much of the nation to the science and real fears surrounding the looming quake. Since then, numerous media outlets have focused on the pending disaster to varying levels. One thing is clear from everyone's coverage: The Northwest isn't ready to handle such a massive quake.
Oregon Public Broadcasting has been reporting on that exact issue through our "Unprepared" series. We've spoken with seismologists, scientists, emergency preparedness experts and local and state officials to capture the scope of the major problem surrounding this impending earthquake: Preparing for it.
We've also dove into the science behind the subduction zone — specifically, how experts know when the last major quake hit this region and how they can predict we're due for another one.
While Oregon and its neighbors have a long way to go to improve infrastructure to better deal with such a disaster, there are things individuals can do to make sure they and their loved ones are ready, no matter when the quake hits. Check out Aftershock, our tool which helps illustrate how hard your neighborhood will be affected by the quake and its impact. Then, read up on our guides on preparedness.