Who will save us when the big one hits?

Sen. Betsy Johnson speaks before members of the Seaside Downtown Development Association in July.

How scared are you?

If “The Next Really Big One” in The New Yorker and “Unprepared” on Oregon Public Broadcasting, haven’t worked your nerves, please check your pulse.

An overdue natural disaster could devastate our region — if the quake doesn’t get you, the tsunami will.

While we’ve been trying to decide whether we’re living with Chicken Little or The Boy Who Cried Wolf, it really doesn’t matter. We need the answer to, “If the worst happens, where do we turn?”

That’s where, state officials say, the Cascadia Playbook comes in.

\While it’s not exactly easy reading — the operational plan “doesn’t have any narrative, any context, a plan or format,” said Laurie Holein, deputy director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management — the playbook is touted as the state and federal government’s go-to document should the earth begin to move.

But how valuable is it really?

State Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scapoose, says it won’t make much of a difference if we’re not prepared at the local level.

“I think there’s more to meeting this threat than putting up little signs saying, ‘We’re tsunami ready,’” she said. “It’s OK in a high-level document to say we take care of our disabled, but what’s the practical reality for getting some person who weighs 300 pounds down from five stories?”

The Playbook

In 2014, state’s Adjutant Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management had a very good idea: a tool to demystify “the very large mountain of things: that needed to be coordinated,” as described by Holein. “Break it down with all the different players.”

The document would detail how state officials should respond in the first 14 days following a magnitude 9.0 Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake and tsunami off the West Coast.

The playbook is “a quick reference guide to what things need to be done,” Holein said. “It’s kind of like an aviator’s checklist before he fires up the engine: what things need to make sure they’re getting done, check the fuel, check, have you done that with that gauge, check.”

Hokanson proposed the playbook to former Gov. Jon Kitzhaber and the first Cascadia Playbook was born in 2014.

Gov. Kate Brown liked the plan, too, and this summer the Office of Emergency Management hailed the release of the updated document. The new Playbook, released with some fanfare for an agency usually in the shadows, provides a checklist for state officials based on federal, state and local emergency response plans, which will also be carried out during the earthquake and tsunami.

This is not for the faint of heart.

The Playbook considers the “worst disasters we would ever face in the state of Oregon,” she said.

A Cascadia Subduction earthquake — a full eruption of the 700-mile subduction zone — would be “absolutely the worst event we would face here,” Holein said. “We wrote it with that disaster in mind and tried to do a very comprehensive inventory of what kind of things are going to be required.”

There could be 25,000 fatalities, more than 10,000 buildings destroyed and damaged; 10,000 or more people in need of shelter and $50 billion in economic losses.

Actions list how and when to trigger a federal disaster declaration, collect bodies, transport supplies, or provide help in areas destroyed by the quake. Shelter, feeding, medical care, animal care — all are critical elements.

All that and a bag of chips?

But Johnson said this week she doesn’t quite see it as the be all and end all of emergency preparedness.

“No, I’m not happy with the measures the state has taken,” she said. “We have too many agencies acting unilaterally. There is not a consistent coordination. It appears that the planning is episodic.”

Johnson added the Legislature tried to rectify this in the last session, with a resilience person in Gov. Kate Brown’s office, responsible directly to the governor.

Many cities along the coast “have incredibly engaged constituents that have done a lot of forward-looking work,” Johnson said. “There are others that have done less so. While we have these siloed plans, we don’t have, in my view, a consistent expectation for what makes communities resilient.”

She said she’s seen the Cascadia Playbook. “I was up at Camp Rilea when Gov. Kitzhaber rolled it out,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to criticize somebody else’s work product, but I don’t know how a high-level planning document translates into on-the-ground action.

“I think there’s a lot more to be done on the ground,” she added.

State money is available for state retrofits for public buildings she said, but in some cases these retrofits make no sense — for example, when a school or firehouse is in a tsunami zone. That’s going to be more complicated,” Johnson said. “If you take Seaside as an example, they didn’t have site control when they went out for their school bond.”

In order to get site control, Seaside needs to go outside the city’s urban-growth boundary. “Expanding any urban-growth boundary is incredibly complicated,” Johnson said, evidenced by the long, well-attended and voluminously documented meetings held in Seaside over past months.

Get your go-bag

All these tsunami pieces seem to have a common thread, sort of like the finales of The Titanic or The Towering Inferno.

Full disclosure: I don’t even own a go-bag. But I am purchasing flashlights, putting meds and tools in one place, and reviewing routes should the ground shake.

“We’re really glad the public is playing attention to the topic right now,” Holein said. “ We want them to know we are working very diligently in our field to make sure we are recognizing and addressing the needs of these type of event, and there’s a call to action for citizens, as well. They need to realize this threat exists and they need to be prepared on their own to be resilient for at least two weeks.”

The only thing everyone seems to recognize now is the risk.

“If residents live close to the coastal area, they need to be very aware, and if they happen to be someone near the shoreline, if and when there is that quaking, they need to get to higher ground as soon as possible,” Holein said “They may have 10 to 15 minutes to get to higher ground. Everything else can be replaced — but lives can’t.”

R.J. Marx is The Daily Astorian’s South County reporter and editor of the Seaside Signal and Cannon Beach Gazette.

Play 1: Notification, activation and authorities

Play 2: Life safety

Play 3: Damage assessment

Play 4: Mass Care and Sheltering

Play 5: Logistics and Resource Management

Play 6: Planning and Prioritization

Play 7: Emergency Repairs

Play 8: Outside Assistance

Play 9: Begin Recovery

The only thing everyone seems to recognize now is the risk.


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