Guest column
Getting better set for the ‘Big One’

Erick Bengel/The Daily Astorian File U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., explains the importance of investing in tsunami preparation to the fun run participants in October. Taking measures now, she said, will not only help to ensure that more people survive, it will make it easier for cities to rebuild after the disaster.

A lot of people read “The Really Big One,” Kathryn Schulz’s New Yorker article about the Cascadia earthquake and tsunami that are forecast to strike the Pacific Northwest.

The article caused shockwaves of its own across our region.

The information is not new to most of us here at home, but the vivid description of the risk to lives and the regional economy has generated a really big amount of anxiety in Oregon.

It’s alarming to read that the largest natural disaster to hit North America might happen right here at home. But as a lawmaker, I am also deeply concerned about the article’s reminder that we are nowhere as prepared as we can and should be given how much we know about this threat. In the article, OSU earthquake expert Chris Goldfinger discusses the growing gap between what we know and what we should do about it.

I have made closing this gap a priority in my work in Congress. I’ve supported additional research, advocated for federal investment in resilience, and raised awareness among my colleagues in Congress. But there is still work to be done.

Many Oregon communities are already taking action. For example, Cannon Beach set up cache sites in evacuation areas where residents can store food, water, and supplies in barrels. Last year, I participated in their Race the Wave 5K walk/run, which followed the tsunami evacuation route from the beach to the cache site so residents and visitors are familiar with the route.

At the state level, Oregon lawmakers authorized The Oregon Resilience Plan. This comprehensive plan recommends policies to protect lives and the economy during and after a Cascadia event. Oregon Emergency Management is working with FEMA on Cascadia Rising, an earthquake and tsunami functional exercise that’s planned for next summer. And the Legislature just passed several resilience-building bills, including provisions for seismic rehabilitation of schools and other critical infrastructure.

The state is making progress, but the federal government can and should do much more. FEMA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are engaged in earthquake and tsunami research and education, but these efforts are not nearly enough. Oregonians face the complicated task of needing to prepare for an event on a scale not experienced in more than 315 years. Unfortunately, federal funding for hazard mitigation and resilience is generally limited to events that have already occurred and caused damage, like Hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy. This tendency to be reactive rather than proactive is shortsighted, and I’m committed to doing what I can to work on prevention.

We can start by providing federal funding for research and development. The U.S. Geological Survey just awarded $4 million to universities in the Pacific Northwest and California for an earthquake early warning system. And I am pleased that one of the first bills the U. S. House passed this session was my bipartisan Tsunami Warning, Research and Education Act. Once it passes the Senate, this Act will support NOAA’s tsunami research and community-specific outreach and resilience activities. It’s a good start, but only a small part of a long list of research and outreach needs.

Local and state governments also need resources to assess, plan, and respond to a Cascadia earthquake. At an implementation meeting for the Oregon Resilience Plan last year, we discussed the importance of planning and response training for communities. The disruption to transportation and communications systems will likely mean that many communities, particularly in rural areas, will be cut off from relief services. Communities need to be able to react and respond so people are safely evacuated, able to shelter in place, and endure winter weather, fire, medical emergencies, or food and water shortages.

The scope of what we face can seem overwhelming, but it is not insurmountable. I will continue to advocate for preparing for a Cascadia earthquake and tsunami. Smart investments now will save lives, property, and money later, and will help the regional economy recover faster. Join me in building on this momentum toward a more resilient future for Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.

U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., represents the 1st District.

We can start by providing federal funding for research and development.

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