Editor’s note: This is part two of a five-part series about a possible 9.0 Cascadia subduction zone earthquake in the Pacific Northwest.
If a 9.0 Cascadia subduction zone earthquake hits the western half of Oregon, Umatilla County residents could still be ducking and covering a week later.
The initial earthquake’s damage to the eastern side of the state is expected to be light to moderate. But Larry Givens, Umatilla County commissioner and former chair of the state Department of Geology and Mineral Industries board, said the aftershocks will move differently, possibly creating earthquakes up to a 6.0 magnitude in parts of Eastern Oregon for weeks after the initial event.
The 2010 magnitude 8.8 earthquake in Chile, for example, created 19 aftershocks larger than a magnitude 6.0 — some hundreds of miles away — for a month after the main event.
The state’s Cascadia Subduction Zone Earthquake and Tsunami Operations Plan assumes the impacts to Eastern Oregon will be indirect, leaving eastern counties free to serve as staging areas for sending resources west and receiving evacuees.
“I’m hoping we don’t underestimate what the damage will be on the east side,” Givens said.
Aftershocks or not, Eastern Oregon residents could still be without electricity, internet, phone service, natural gas, vehicle fuel and groceries a week after the event.
Steve Eberline, preparedness presenter for the Red Cross, said in those conditions families should have a plan in place and review it twice a year.
He and his wife, for example, plan for her to wait two hours at home for him to show up before setting out to pick up their youngest child at school, while he would work to get to the oldest two. They have a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C for where to camp out after. All of their extended family in the Pacific Northwest also have a relative in Chicago that they have designated to each check in with should they have an opportunity at a shelter to make a phone call or send a message.
In 2015 Umatilla County signed a “sister county” agreement with Tillamook County, agreeing to send its public works director and other staff to the coast to help in the event of a major natural disaster.
Public works director Tom Fellows said he and his Tillamook County counterpart have both taken multiple trips to their sister county to tour infrastructure, meet employees and get familiar with the available resources.
“The initial thought is that if something happens down there, there’s not only going to be chaos, but leadership down there is going to be focused on their own families — as they should be — so we could bring in some leadership,” he said.
Fellows said both counties have expressed an interest in expanding the agreement to other departments such as health and law enforcement.
Umatilla County’s ongoing partnerships with Morrow County would also come into play. Morrow County emergency manager John Bowles said his county doesn’t have the resources of some of the larger counties in the state, but they would contribute what they could, which might include things like caring for livestock rescued from the west side of the state.
“We have the land that we could take a chunk and throw some sheep or cattle or horses on it in the event of an emergency,” he said.
Bowles said in the coming months the Morrow County Sheriff’s Department plans to use its Facebook page and other venues to provide educational materials about emergency preparedness.
According to the state’s Cascadia Subduction Zone plan, firefighters, law enforcement, engineers, building inspectors, medical personnel and others from the east side of the state will also be requested to help on the west side.
Influx of people
Umatilla County emergency manager Tom Roberts said he could see Umatilla County quickly becoming sandwiched between refugees from the west and volunteers and journalists pouring in from the east.
Many of the people coming from the west side of the state will likely have injuries sustained as buildings and bridges collapsed. Nick Bejarano, communications director for Good Shepherd Health Care System, said immediately after Cascadia they would implement their emergency operations plan.
“We would call in all nurses and physicians within driving distance that could make it in,” he said, calling it an “all hands on deck” situation.
Bejarano said as many as 60,000 injured and hospitalized people from the west side the state will need to be triaged and evacuated to hospitals still in operation. The hospital in Hermiston is only licensed for 25 beds, and many Eastern Oregon hospitals have similarly small numbers, so he said patients being flown out of the west will be sent as far away as Utah. However, Good Shepherd would take in as many people as it could handle, including those with less serious injuries who could be stitched up and released.
The Red Cross and FEMA, meanwhile, would be working to set up shelter. In Oregon the state estimates 520,000 people will need shelter in the aftermath of Cascadia, while about 500,000 more will stay in their own makeshift shelters but still need support with food and water.
Monique Dugaw, communications director for the Cascades region of the Red Cross, said the nonprofit works closely with the government during disasters and participated in the Cascadia Rising drill. After an earthquake the Red Cross would start by providing shelter.
“We would be focused on meeting immediate needs, a cot, a blanket, a place to stay that’s safe and warm, three meals a day,” she said.
Sending out supplies
The government plans to use Robert’s Field in Redmond as the Federal Incident Support Base on the assumption it remains mostly undamaged during Cascadia.
Steve Chrisman, manager of the Pendleton Airport, said he recently sent a pitch to the state arguing that Pendleton should be the backup or secondary location for sending supplies and volunteers west.
“Pendleton for a lot of reasons seems like a pretty logical backup,” he said.
He pointed out that the Pendleton Airport has a “massive” concrete apron for staging surrounded by more than a thousand acres of flat land to set up camps. The airport includes an Oregon National Guard hangar and armory, two runways large enough to land a Boeing 737 and a 34,000-square-foot hangar for staging. Nearby resources like the Pendleton Convention Center, Round-Up Grounds, farms and 1,400 hotel rooms could also be utilized.
“We have a lot of food processing in the area, whereas they would have to ship a lot of that to central Oregon,” Chrisman said.
The locations would also be more conveniently located to ports along the Columbia River, where supplies could be sent by boat if bridge collapses were not blocking the river too far east.
Contact Jade McDowell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4536.
Stay tuned for the next installment of the series, Cascadia Day 30: Carry on.