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Do you know what to do in case of an earthquake? Most Portlanders don’t think about earthquakes, so we bring attention to this threat every April during Earthquake Preparedness Month in the city. This April, the City sponsored events and exercises to make the public more informed. We also put a focus on policy changes to help make the city safer. I even huddled under my council desk during an earthquake practice drill.
Last year’s magnitude 9.0 earthquake in Japan was a tragic reminder that all Pacific Rim cities, including Portland, are at risk for such major events. The last catastrophic quake in Oregon was geologically similar to the one in Japan, striking off the West Coast in 1700. Scientists say it’s only a matter of time before the next big earthquake occurs. The Portland Bureau of Emergency Management (PBEM) is working hard to help us become resilient to such a challenging, potentially destructive event.
On April 18, I joined a group of county and state engineers and earthquake experts on a tour of some of downtown’s most vulnerable areas. There were four key stops along the tour: Mercy Corps headquarters, the Burnside Bridge, the Willamette River harbor wall and the seismically sturdy Fire Station #1. We learned about the challenges and successes involved in bracing downtown’s key facilities against a massive earthquake in Portland. It was both eye-opening and reassuring.
On Wednesday, April 25th, I led all City of Portland employees in an earthquake practice drill. We practiced the three simple, recommended actions one should take during an earthquake: drop, cover and hold on. It was a valuable experience. We hope to engage in exercises like this more often, both inside and outside government.
Last week, Portland City Council adopted a memorandum of understanding with the American Red Cross to improve their coordination with the City in an emergency. In addition to the memorandum, PBEM has purchased several emergency shelter trailers for the Red Cross using Federal Homeland Security Grant funds. Each trailer can provide shelter to 100 people and eight pets when needed.
This week, Council will vote to adopt changes to the City’s earthquake and emergency communication plans. These updated plans provide a framework for how the City will respond during a disaster. These changes represent the very latest improvements PBEM has made to the City’s Basic Emergency Operations Plan.
Tonight -- Monday, April 30th -- PBEM will co-host a seismic strengthening class with our Bureau of Development Services (BDS). Experts will provide an overview of the permitting and construction processes required for seismic home-improvement projects, including a show-and-tell explanation of needed materials.
The months ahead are busy, too. At 7 pm on May 8th, the Portland Earthquake Project (a collaboration among PBEM, Mercy Corps, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Red Cross) will host special guests from Japan who will share experiences from last year’s earthquake and tsunami. That free event takes place at Mercy Corps in Portland. This October, Portland will participate in the Great Oregon ShakeOut, an event designed to raise earthquake awareness and teach everyone in the state how to prepare for our next, inevitable quake.
Soon, we’ll officially break ground on the City’s new state-of-the-art Emergency Coordination Center (ECC) in SE Portland. Once complete, the ECC will significantly improve the City’s ability to respond and recover from a major disaster.
As always, we’re continuing to make improvements to PublicAlerts.org, adding partner agencies to this alert service throughout our region. All Portlanders and residents of Clackamas, Clark, Columbia, Multnomah and Washington counties can sign up to receive emergency notifications issued by their county of residence.
While the threat of an earthquake in our area is very real, I am heartened by the good work PBEM does to help us fortify ourselves all year long.
Remember: Drop, Cover and Hold On.
Mayor Sam Adams