SALEM — Federal and state emergency management officials kicked off a four-day exercise Monday to test Oregon’s preparedness for the Big One.
Seismologists have long said a 9.0 or greater magnitude earthquake is overdue in the state’s Cascadia Subduction Zone, a fault that stretches from Northern Vancouver Island to Cape Mendocino, Calif. The quake is expected to cause thousands of casualties, collapsed buildings and bridges and billions of dollars in economic damage. About 15 million people live in the subduction zone.
The four-day simulation of the earthquake and tsunami started Monday with Gov. Kate Brown declaring a catastrophic disaster and notifying federal and out-of-state authorities of the need for assistance.
“This might seem so overwhelming that preparation by individual Oregonians or state government is too big of a task, but I want you all to know that we can do this,” Brown said. “We can do this together. Preparedness is readiness. We will do it together, building a better prepared and more resilient Oregon, one step at a time and one brick at a time. Today we take a major step toward resiliency.”
Brown then joined emergency management officials on a helicopter to mimic surveying the damage in the wake of a disaster and to watch Portland Fire and Rescue and the Air Force Reserve perform joint rescue and recovery operations, such as mass casualty treatment, roof top extraction and collapsed space rescue operation. Some of the other exercises will test strategic communications and telecommunications.
Participants in the exercises include about 20,000 people from agencies at state, local and federal levels in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, said Laurie Holien, deputy director of Oregon Office of Emergency Management.
One of the exercises involves a telephone call with governors in other states. Instead of Brown participating in the call, the secretary of state’s chief of staff will participate, simulating a situation in which the governor and secretary of state might be killed or unavailable during a catastrophic earthquake.
In 2012, voters approved a constitutional amendment that provided a mechanism for government to continue after a catastrophic event. The amendment allows the governor or someone in the line of succession to declare a catastrophic disaster and call the Legislature into session anywhere in the state with as little as one member of the House and one member of the Senate.
During Gov. John Kitzhaber’s inauguration ceremony at the State Capitol in January 2015, then-Secretary of State Kate Brown, Senate President Pro Tempore Ginny Burdick and House Speaker Pro Tempore Tobias Read were held in a seismically safe National Guard facility in Salem. Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, requested the precaution to ensure the continuity of government in the event that Kitzhaber and others in the line of succession were killed during the ceremony.
Similar precautions are standard in Washington, D.C., during the State of the Union address each year, but 2015 was the first time Oregon took that step.
Courtney has repeatedly said that the capitol would collapse in a high magnitude earthquake and has pushed for seismic upgrades to the building. During legislative sessions, the governor, others in the line of succession and lawmakers are often inside the capitol at once. The line of succession is the secretary of state, state treasurer, Senate president and House speaker.