PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — As the world watches the damaging effects of the 7.8 earthquake in Turkey and Syria on Monday, many are wondering if Oregon and Washington are prepared for an earthquake.
Though the earthquake overseas is fundamentally a completely different kind of fault line and quake, the images are clear — showing how important it is that local infrastructure is ready and resilient.
“It’s a really big undertaking to make sure that the whole state is ready for this,” said Erica Fischer, professor of structural engineering at Oregon State University.
Fischer studies the effects of quakes to figure out how the Pacific Northwest can prepare its buildings for a big earthquake.
“Turkey is a seismically active country, with pretty modern building codes. So, we often can learn a lot about the behavior of our buildings, by looking at what is damaged, but also what is not damaged,” she said.
Fischer says the PNW can also learn from Turkey and Syria’s response during this kind of catastrophic crisis.
“This is an earthquake that affected multiple countries. We have that situation here in the United States with the Cascadia Subduction Zone, that would impact both Canada and the United States,” she said.
Whether a building withstands a quake in the PNW depends on many factors from soil conditions to construction codes, according to Fischer — earthquake standards didn’t get implemented into building codes until the 90s.
“It’s taken us in the Pacific Northwest a while to catch up and identify where these vulnerabilities are and then take action through policy,” she said. “Particularly in Oregon, we’ve done a really great job so far.”
Fischer points to the Oregon Resilience Plan, steps the state has taken to invest in seismically upgrading schools, as well as determining the emergency response for the coastal communities and protecting water infrastructure.
Meanwhile, a new study from the University of Washington predicts less damage than previously expected to bridges in Western Washington following a magnitude 9 earthquake.
But the next step, Fischer says, is addressing the most vulnerable buildings constructed before the mid-90s, which were built without earthquake design in mind; namely unreinforced masonry buildings and non-ductile concrete buildings.
“Those are the pictures and videos that you’re seeing in Turkey. So, you can see how brittle those buildings are and how they perform in an earthquake,” she said. “They do collapse very suddenly.”
But fixing those weaknesses will take time. While preparing a home for an earthquake may seem daunting, Fischer says you don’t have to get everything done all at once.
Over the course of the year, Fischer suggests prepping a go bag, two weeks of food water and camping supplies. But most importantly, she suggests building relationships with neighbors and coming up with a plan.