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Why Don't We Prepare?


Alan Sylvestre/OPB

We know that a massive earthquake will hit the Pacific Northwest in the future. More specifically, we know there’s a 37 percent chance of it happening in the next 50 years. It will be deadly and devastating and fundamentally change the lives of residents here.

Yet we are massively unprepared, both on an institutional level, and, often, on a personal level. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has found that fewer than half of Americans have a survival kit or communication plan ready for a disaster. And when asked specifically about whether they have enough food or water to survive a disaster, the numbers drop further.

There’s a handy Oregon website that tells you about the hazards at any given location in the state. This is what my neighborhood looks like:

I face severe shaking, possible landslides, and — the kicker — I live directly on an active fault line (oh — and did I mention that I’m on the top floor of my unreinforced masonry apartment building?). But I, like so many others, have done nothing to make sure I’m safe when it happens.

What’s going on here? We know this disaster is coming. But we don’t do anything. It’s bizarre.

We’ve survived as a species based on our talent for self-preservation, but there’s clearly a disconnect that happens when it comes to making sure we’re safe in a future catastrophe. In a radio special as part of OPB’s “Unprepared” series, we explore what’s going on in our minds when we ignore and put off the warnings.

Click here to find out how the Cascadia earthquake might affect your home.

About Unprepared

OPB’s Unprepared series is dedicated to stories that inform our community about the dangers of a megaquake, and to examining ways our region can be better prepared. Oregon Field Guide spent the last year-and-a-half probing the state’s level of preparedness. It found that Oregon is dangerously far behind many quake-prone regions in the world. Watch the hour-long Oregon Field Guide Unprepared special.

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