OSU Geologist tells House Committee: “We need federal help; we may not have 50 years to prepare for the big one.”
Testifying this week before the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure committee, Dr. Scott Ashford, Dean of OSU’s College of Engineering, didn’t hold back. Dr. Ashford said a very strong earthquake will hit the Pacific Northwest in the near future and he strongly implied that the Northern California, Oregon and Washington coasts cannot wait fifty years to prepare for it. He said, “We need federal involvement. It will be the worst natural disaster to ever hit the United States.”
Dr. Ashford said investment in strengthening bridges, roads, highways, gas and electric utilities, strategic government buildings and other important components to the northwest’s critical infrastructure like airports, cannot be shouldered by the states and communities themselves. And that if such investments aren’t made up front, ensuing disaster will be far more costly to repair after the ground stops moving and the tsunami has come and gone.
Dr. Ashford told the committee that after the earthquake, Highway 101 along the Oregon Coast will be impassable. No useable stretch will remain intact. Interstate 5 in the Willamette Valley will have useable segments but only for short distances. The coast will be cut off from the rest of the state for a minimum of two weeks. Maybe longer. Hunkering down in place will be the main strategy for survival among families and individuals.
Dr. Ashford said the role of the federal government in providing “infrastructure resiliency” must be acknowledged and commitments made. He said the Pacific Northwest cannot begin to shoulder the burden on their own. He said following earthquakes in Southern California it was obvious that creating resiliency would have saved billions of dollars in structural damage throughout the area. He stressed that it’s an INVESTMENT NOT A COST. It SAVES MONEY. Dr. Ashford pointed out that Japan suffers earthquakes regularly but their building codes and construction standards, which far exceed those in the U.S., minimize the damage.
Dr. Richard Allen, Director of the University of California Berkeley Seismology Department told the committee that Japan and other countries around the world are also way ahead of the U.S. in constructing and operating earthquake warning systems. Dr. Allen said the systems give warnings from 15-seconds to two minutes before the ground starts shaking violently; and that’s just enough time to begin shutting down power plants, seal off natural gas lines via computers, stop electrical mass transit systems and alert airports of the impending shaker. It’s also enough time for people to run outside into the clear and not be trapped in collapsing buildings. Dr. Allen said the medical savings in not having to treat so many injured alone would pay a huge portion of such a system in the Pacific Northwest.
The chairman of the committee said that the written record of the hearing would be left open for further comments. No federal commitments were mentioned except in passing by Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio who said he could not over-state the urgency of the need for a federal role in helping the Pacific Northwest to prepare for a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami triggered by the Cascadia Subduction Zone.