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The City of Portland, Oregon

Portland Bureau of Emergency Management

Readiness. Response. Recovery.

Phone: 503-823-4375

Fax: 503-823-3903

TDD: 503-823-3947

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One year later: What the Japan Earthquake means to Oregon (3-9-2012)

March 11, 2012 marks the first anniversary of the most powerful and catastrophic earthquake in Japan’s history. The 9.0 magnitude quake was the fifth largest ever recorded, leading to both a tsunami and a nuclear crisis. The entirety of the events is now regarded as the one of the worst disasters in world history.

VIDEO: NOVA - Japan's Killer Quake


Occurring on a Friday at 2:46 p.m. Japan Standard Time off the coast of the country’s largest island, Honshu, the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake moved the island eight feet to the east, shifted the earth on its axis by an estimated four to ten inches and may’ve actually shortened the length of the day by 1.8 microseconds.

VIDEO: Helicopter view of tsunami waves


During the past year, the many ways in which this earthquake shook the world have become uniquely clear across the globe and here at home. Geologically speaking, the Pacific Northwest’s Cascadia region is a mirror image of the region where the Tohoku quake happened. The Cascadia subduction zone extending from the California coast north to Vancouver Island is now due for a Tohoku-sized earthquake of 9.0 magnitude or greater. The last Cascadia event occurred January, 1700. The average range of time between these massive quakes indicates the next one could occur at any moment during the next century.

VIDEO: What Tohoku teaches us about Cascadia

Earthquake catastrophes across the planet are focusing Oregon’s attention on understanding, preparing for and surviving such a destructive event. Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber has proclaimed March earthquake and tsunami awareness month. The state plans to issue bonds this summer for a grant program to fund seismic upgrades at seven schools. Oregon legislation initiated since the Tohoku quake will institutionalize the state’s responsibility to improve school facilities and help develop an Oregon Resilience Plan.


Here in Portland, the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management (PBEM) and the Portland Bureau of Development Services (BDS) are educating neighbors about how to seismically strengthen their homes. PBEM is currently updating its earthquake plans and studying the vulnerabilities of local energy systems.


As first stated in an Oregonian editorial ten days after the Tohoku event, preparing for a magnitude 9.0 earthquake along the Cascadia fault involves straightforward goals: Protect lives in potentially deadly places; strengthen the lifelines that will allow people, goods and energy to circulate; and reinforce the critical infrastructure needed to support emergency response and hasten economic recovery.