That’s not an Earthquake!

There’s a great scene in the movie Crocodile Dundee where a couple appears as they are going to be robbed by a switch-blade toting teen. The woman pleads, “Give him your wallet”, adding perceptively “he’s got a knife”. The hero laughs and says, “That’s not a knife”, and then he pulls out his foot long blade and adds, “THAT’s a knife.”

People act like that when discussing earthquakes. Californians scoff at folks all over the country, most recently Oklahomans, who are experiencing earthquakes for the first time. The conversation goes something like this:

Aunt Flossie from Oklahoma: “Wow, we’ve had about twenty earthquakes here in the last month. My nerves are shot!”

Nephew Skippy from Burbank: “Those aren’t earthquakes. Northridge was an earthquake.”

Even though Skippy was two years old when the 6.7 earthquake devastated the region, he’s inherited the California earthquake superiority complex. That attitude, along with a comme ci, comme ça attitude regarding earthquakes in general puts many Californians in preparedness limbo, not quite ignoring the fact we live in earthquake country, but not quite taking all of needed steps to prepare for the worst.

Still, in terms of earthquake threat and corresponding lack of preparedness, the Pacific Northwest and its Cascadia Subduction Zone is as far removed from the puny California San Andreas Fault System as Dundee’s Bushwhacker Blade is from the would-be robber’s knife.

The Mega-Thrust earthquake now due could potentially send a 100 ft. tall tsunami into the Oregon coastline, according to a recent presentation at the QuakeSmart Business Preparedness summit held in Oregon City.

Oregon Public Broadcasting has an amazing website dedicated to the earthquake threat in the region. Not only do they describe how big the Bushwhacker Earthquake will be (This is my term not theirs!) but how unprepared the region is. There is a wonderful tool on the site that describes how long and what kind of services will be out following a subduction zone break.

I used to live in Oregon, just outside Portland. So I entered in the zip code for my former residence, and I learned that the following is expected:


This may take some noodling in order to assess the impact. But let me summarize: After the major earthquake, if I live in Lake Oswego I can expect the water to come back on in more than a year, police and fire departments up and running in six months, and a return to health care normalcy in three years? Oh, and it will be 18 months until the roads are back to normal.

You know, living in California in the middle of earthquake country isn’t so bad after all!