Oregon businesses face destruction from future earthquake


htctthumb1BY KIM MOORE | RESEARCH EDITOR

An earthquake would completely destroy many Oregon businesses, highlighting the urgent need for the private and public sectors to collaborate on shoring up disaster preparedness, said panelists at an Oregon Business breakfast summit today.

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BY KIM MOORE | RESEARCH EDITOR

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An earthquake would completely destroy many Oregon businesses, highlighting the urgent need for the private and public sectors to collaborate on shoring up disaster preparedness, said panelists at an Oregon Business breakfast summit today.

There is a one-in-three chance that a large earthquake will occur in Oregon in the next 50 years, said Mary Faulkner, a senior vice president at Ferguson Wellman Capital Management. Oregon’s earthquake risk comes from the Cascadia Subduction Zone, an active fault line that lies off the coast of the Pacific Northwest.

Oregon’s coastal range would completely destroyed by a large earthquake and tsunami, experts say. Portland could be subject to at least five minutes of shaking that would topple old buildings, especially in the historic downtown where there is a cluster of brittle structures.

It would take at least a month to get electricity up and running after a large earthquake hits, says Yumei Wang, an engineer for the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries. Water, fuel and transportation networks could take well over six months.

Wang pointed to the aftermath of the 2011 magnitude 6.3 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, as an example of the likely effect a similar earthquake could have in Portland. The central business district of Christchurch, New Zealand’s second largest city, has not yet reopened since the earthquake.

The Oregon Resilience Plan, a report requested by the state legislature and released in February 2013, sets out recommendations for narrowing the amount of time it would take to recover from the aftermath of an earthquake. Wang says the input of businesses is essential to implementing these recommendations. “The state government will not do it alone,” she says.

Justin Yuen, founder and president of FMYI, a software company, points to technology that can be used to help people and employees communicate before an earthquake strikes and in the aftermath. “There is potential for early notification,” said Yuen. These include early warning systems built in to smart phones or group messaging. He also sees the potential for businesses to build earthquake preparedness into their sustainability practices.

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The private sector is already taking steps to improve warning systems. One of the attendees, Ben Kaiser, principal of CoreFirst, a developer and producer of earthquake a natural disaster systems, told the audience that CoreFirst is the U.S. distributor of an early earthquake warning system that businesses can install in their office buildings. Developed by a company in Vancouver B.C., the  “ShakeAlarm” system recognizes seismic waves that are a precursor to earthquakes. After detecting seismic waves, the system sends a warning text message to building occupants, shuts down gas and electricity, and turns on backup power systems. The ShakeAlarm has just been installed at the Radiator Building, a 36,000 square-foot, five-storey, wood-framed office building Kaiser has developed in North Portland.

Panelist Wang said, “there is no warning before an earthquake hits.”

The biggest problem businesses face is funding. While large multi-national companies can afford to implement disaster plans, smaller businesses will find it difficult to cope with preparedness costs, such as retrofitting buildings. Despite this, the price of doing nothing could be devastating, said panelist Jay Raskin, an architect of residential design in Cannon Beach and vice chair of the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission. “There are tremendous costs, but you have to compare those to the costs of no action.”

To bolster funding for earthquake preparedness, a bill in the Oregon legislature (HB 3048) has been introduced that would require two percent of gross proceeds from certain bonds to be set aside to fund disaster resiliency projects. Wang says it is unlikely to pass, but would benefit from the backing of the private sector. “The business community might want to support it,” said Wang.

 




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