PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Experts say when it comes to “The Big One,” a lot of it is a waiting game as it could happen today, tomorrow or 100 years from now. With that, experts say Portland is not really ready for it — at least not structurally.
Andrew Meigs is a professor of geology at Oregon State University and an overall earthquake expert.
Meigs says the conversation around the Cascadia subduction zone earthquake is the same as it has been for years — kind of in the back of people’s minds but not an every day thought.
When it comes to seismically stable buildings, he said Portland could do much better, adding that some older buildings have been retrofitted to better support their structure. This is reportedly much cheaper than tearing down a building and putting up a new one, plus the history can be preserved.
Meigs said every time there’s a minor to moderate quake, the building code changes. Despite new buildings being much better than they used to be, there is still a concern.
“When you look through the windows, you’ll see a kind of an ‘X’ bracing and that is a retrofit, a very standard retrofit, to give a building lateral strength,” said Meigs. “It’s lateral motion that is the killer, and the most significant kind of ground motion that damages buildings. It’s particularly a challenge for the like, the engineers say the performance of a building in an earthquake. So retrofitting, it’s a very common thing to occur.”
As far as public interest and awareness, Meigs says he doesn’t believe it is nearly as strong as it should be. He says the last time we saw an earthquake similar to what we can expect with the Big One was in the year 1700. He said people have nothing in their memories to gauge that massive of an event.
For the coast, the biggest threat is the tsunami that will be triggered by the quake.
Meigs noted research and technology are moving toward a detection and alert system more advanced than what is currently available. Right now, the early detection alert system gives people a warning just minutes or even seconds before a quake. He says there are other places far more advanced than us.
“For example, Japan, and then their last big earthquake in 2011,” said Meigs. “They did things like shut down the power grid, turn off the bullet trains and a variety of other things, which caused everything to stop just prior to the arrival of ground motion, which saved lives and reduced the amount of damage and loss that occurred in that event.”
Oregonians and Washingtonians can sign up for the ShakeAlert earthquake warning system by visiting the U.S. Coast Guard’s website here. The system detects significant earthquakes and will sent alerts about it right to your phone before the quakes even happen.
The Cascadia subduction zone earthquake could be recorded between a 7 and a 9 magnitude.