The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Lou Marzeles

Northwest set to train for monster quake


Cascadia Rising graphic

IT'S COMING: Suddenly the Cascadia Subduction Zone is all over the news. But Washington and Oregon had already set a training date for quake emergency plans in January. This graphic shows the shaking intensity of the anticipated 9.0+ quake that is coming any minute now.

If doomsday watchers are correct, any minute now the I-5 corridor and everything west of it, from Vancouver, B.C. to northern California, will be toast. Burnt, crumbled toast.

The doomsday talk isn't coming from lurid disaster movies or people whom the UFO Hotline limits to one call a day. It's coming from renowned physicists, from The New Yorker magazine-and even from the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA, and the states of Washington and Oregon. In fact, the latter have scheduled a disaster training exercise next year for this very event.

All these entities are saying an earthquake the magnitude of 9 or higher is going to strike somewhere along the Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ), a fault line stretching 700 miles from British Columbia to northern California. Physicists know this because they've determined it's happened 41 times in the last 10,000 years, with a recurrence interval of every 243 years. And the last one was in 1700. That makes it 315 years since the last one, 72 years overdue. Famed physicist Michio Kaku told TV reporters in the past few weeks that if he lived in the Pacific Northwest right now-well, he wouldn't. There are reports of nervous homeowners taking his advice.

The current issue of The New Yorker has a lengthy piece called "The Really Big One," which has generated fresh (and feverish) interest in the coming earthquake that could be strong enough to affect the rotation of the earth. The story shifts focus from the notorious San Andreas fault, star of disaster legend and lore way back in the 20th century, to the CSZ. Whereas the San Andreas fault was once foreseen as the coming "Big One" with an upper limit of about 8.2 on the scales that measure these things, the CSZ's potential is exponentially 94 percent stronger.

But well before The New Yorker and ratings-boosting TV broadcasts made people wonder what a CSZ was, the Washington and Oregon Whole Community Exercise Design Committee-under the joint supervision of Homeland Security, FEMA and the two states-issued a 180-page exercise scenario document in January of this year called "Cascadia Rising: Cascadia Subduction Zone Catastrophic Earthquake and Tsunami." It states that in June of next year the committee will hold a special training exercise for emergency service providers to prepare for west coast burnt toast, and its pages are filled with extensive details of the devastation the disaster will wreak. Its table of contents alone are four pages, listing topics such as "Shaking Intensity;" "The Tsunami;" "Landslides and Liquefaction;" "Population Impacts" in both states, separating fatalities and injuries; "Transportation Systems" itemizing impact on roads, airports, railways, and bridges; "Electric Power Systems;" "Natural Gas Systems;" and chapters discussing fire and police stations, schools, hospitals, water treatment and hazardous material facilities, and communications systems. The report says immediate deaths could exceed 10,000, with an additional 30,000 injured. Economic losses could be on the order of $81 billion.

"Cascadia Rising is a four-day Functional Exercise occurring the week of June 6, 2016," the report states. "Participating Emergency Operation and Coordination Centers (EOC/ECCs) at all levels of government and the private sector in Washington and Oregon will activate to coordinate simulated field response operations, both within their jurisdictions and also with neighboring communities, the State EOCs, FEMA, and major military commands. The purpose of this scenario publication is two-fold: (1) to provide information for exercise participants on the potential impacts resulting from a large magnitude Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ) earthquake and tsunami, preparing exercise players for some of the challenges they may face during the exercise; and, (2) to provide exercise planner 'trusted agents' with information on CSZ damages, assisting them in the preparation of various exercise design products."

While inland residents such as Klickitat Countians are unlikely to be directly affected, the event will surely challenge emergency service workers far from the disaster zone. Eight million people live in the region west of the Cascades that will be hardest hit. Spillover from the disaster will definitely extend well inland. In our next story on the CSZ, we'll talk about regional preparedness.


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