Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Oregon Doesn't just have floods

It might seem like Oregon does not have many disasters. We usually hear about the yearly flood in the same old places. However, our state is very large and is divided by the Cascade mountain range into two distinct geographic areas that suffer different types of disasters, many of which are not large enough for a Federal Declaration, but are certainly devastating to those affected.

If an event is not big and horrible, we won’t hear much about it on the news outside of the affected area. If it is not happening to us, we don’t spend much time thinking about it. This can lead to a false sense of security. We forget to plan.

When I encourage people to be prepared for an emergency, I am often told that all we have are floods and that it is “no big deal”. I disagree. Besides flooding being a very big deal, Oregon can and has suffered a wide variety of hazards, both natural and man-made.

Most recently parts of Oregon suffered from The Great Coastal Gale of 2007. A series of powerful Pacific storms hit the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington and the Canadian province of British Columbia between December 1, 2007 and December 3, 2007.

The storms on December 2 and 3 reportedly produced an extreme long-duration wind event with hurricane-force wind gusts of up 129 mph at Bay City, Oregon. The storm also brought heavy rains and produced widespread record flooding throughout the region, particularly Vernonia, and was blamed for at least 18 deaths. That’s a big deal.

Oregon’s history reveals many short-term and a few long-term droughts. Long-term drought periods of more than one year can impact forest conditions and set the stage for potentially devastating wildfires.

And don’t forget the Spring Break Quake. Oregon is quite vulnerable to earthquakes (and tsunamis, which often accompany major seismic events) because of the state’s proximity to the Cascadia Subduction Zone just off the Pacific Coast.

Depending on the epicenter, areas receiving major damage from an 8.0 – 9.0 magnitude earthquake would include most of the counties in Western Oregon; the heavily populated metropolitan areas of Portland, Salem, and Eugene would certainly experience major damage.

Landslides also pose significant threat to many communities in Oregon. They threaten transportation corridors, fuel and energy conduits, and community facilities. While not all landslides result in property damage, many landslides impact roads and other infrastructure, and can pose a serious life-safety hazard.

That’s just a few of the events that Oregonians have suffered through over the years. Earthquakes, fires, severe storms, power outages, mudslides, snow storms, and thunderstorms are some potential emergencies we may encounter in the future.

We are also at risk for blackouts, chemical emergencies, and terrorist attacks. Oregon has even seen a tornado or two over the years.

So, why the concern over different types of disasters?

In some cases such as winter storms, we have prior warning, but sometimes we don’t. What if it isn’t a storm? What if one of the big semi trucks carrying toxic chemicals turns over in your town? Your family plan for flooding should be different than your plan for a chemical spill. Knowing what the possibilities are will help you create a better plan.

Knowledge is power.
Brains often freeze under extreme stress. Having a plan and practicing your family plan ahead of time can train you not to freeze. People automatically do what they have learned and practiced.

“Knowing where to go was the most important thing,” says a 9/11 survivor. “Because your brain, or at least mine – shut down.”

Bill McMahon, a Morgan Stanley executive who survived 9/11 said “One thing you don’t ever want to do is to have to think in a disaster.”

Have a plan, get a kit and be informed. Know the possible disasters for Oregon. Talk to your family about what to do in different situations. Stay safe and call or write with any disaster related questions.

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