#SOL18 An Earthquake Can Ruin Your Whole Day

There was an earthquake east of Kodiak Island Alaska overnight that’s got me changing my plans.

You see, I live in a place where we joke about “The Big One.” Portland, OR lies smack dab in the action of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, where the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate is subducting, or moving under, the North American tectonic plate. Badness, big badness, can occur at any time.

We joke about earthquakes because, here, earthquakes are no joking matter.

The 2015 New Yorker article put the problem into the national spotlight. It’s a cheery piece, as you might guess from the title:  “The Really Big One: An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when.” Then there’s the 2016 CNN report, “The quake-maker you’ve never heard of: Cascadia.”

Bridges across the Willamette River, Portland OR

Some of the bridges over the Willamette, Tilikum Crossing in the foreground. (Image by TriMet, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Portland lies on both sides of the wide Willamette River, connected by 12 different bridges. It’s anticipated that all, or most, of these will collapse. (Here’s a nifty animation of what could happen to one of the bridges during an 8.0 earthquake.) This is problematic for us– my husband usually rides his bike over the Hawthorne Bridge to get to work. (Note to self: we still need to make a plan about this….)

I’m not sure we’ll be able to get to our daughter’s house. (Note to self: we still need to make a plan for contact….) Our brother-in-law is a coordinator for his neighborhood emergency team (I’m on the waiting list for the next training) so we probably won’t hear from him immediately. Our sister-in-law is far out enough from the city center that she would likely not suffer from serious effects. We could ride our bikes there– if they are not mangled in debris. (Note to self: We have got to coordinate a family communication plan….)

We’ve done what we can. The house has been bolted to the foundation. The automatic gas main shut off has been installed. The grandfather clock is tethered to the wall. I wish the earthquake latches were attached to the kitchen cabinet doors; maybe next weekend.

Newly inspired by the news from Alaska, I’m adjusting my plans for the day. I’ll put final touches on our earthquake preparations. I’ll scan the last of the vital documents the Red Cross says we’ll need; I’ll upload them into the cloud and onto a flash drive and print a copy for the fireproof, waterproof lockbox. I’ll add cash, all small bills. I’ll dig out the solar cellphone charger we use when we’re camping and add it to the last items I’m lugging to the garage: the winding emergency radio, extra flashlights, particle-filtering face masks. These will join two weeks of food and 30+ gallons of water, sleeping bags and tent, first aid kit…. As the Red Cross speaker said, “Think of post-earthquake Portland as ‘camping comes to you’!”

If I thought too much about it, I’d be a quivering wreck. Actually, I’d probably be curled in the fetal position under my bed. Except the Red Cross trainer said being under the bed is one of the worst places to be. (Note to self: Consider thinking about safe places to curl up.) But I have a strict rule in place. I am never, ever, under any circumstance, to dwell on a sentence that begins, “What if_______.”

Right now, in this moment, the house is warm. My husband and I are home together; everyone in the Portland family is safe. We’ve done almost everything we can. (Note to self: Put the crowbar under the bed!)

I remind myself, there’s always only the moment.

In this one, I’m grateful.




Image license CC BY-NC 2.0

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14 responses to “#SOL18 An Earthquake Can Ruin Your Whole Day”

  1. I appreciate the blend of wry humor, information, and preparation advice in this slice. You make the most of your perspective to write both personally and authoritatively. I wish you well in this moment as you plan for other less definitively predictable ones.

    • Karen says:

      Thanks, Brian. I guess I’d rather prepare for sometime-in-the-future possibilities than deal with the unforeseen. I wish we humans could avoid both. And, I appreciate your view of the writing as personal and authoritative. I struggle to balance the personal and the informational. It’s how I want my students to write. Hard to do, hard to teach….

  2. Andrea says:

    Wow, I had never heard about this. You seem very prepared, even with plans for things that aren’t ready yet. I learned something new while reading your post.

    • Karen says:

      Glad to hear it! I hope you won’t ever need to use the info you gleaned here. The Red Cross gets all the credit– I went to a two-hour session on getting prepared and am just following their advice.

  3. We were under a tsunami watch as a result of this Alaskan earthquake, so I feel you! After our “false-alarm” missile attack two Saturdays ago, I have truly learned the value of being prepared. Perhaps I would not have panicked so much if I were more prepared. Thank you for sharing how prepared you are! Note to self: get a plan like yours!

    • Karen says:

      The thought of a tsunami watch frightens me. How do you even prepare for that? I hope the watch fades away and that you and yours stay safe.

  4. elsie says:

    Earthquakes are never far from my mind since my son lives in southern California. You are one prepared lady! I hope you never have to put your training into effect.

    • Karen says:

      You and me both. If if makes you feel any better, The Cascadia subduction is much worse than the San Andreas fault….

  5. Patricia Palmer says:

    I found your notes to self to be spot on and know that you will be acting on those notes if you haven’t already by the time you read this. All kidding aside, I am glad that you are so prepared and hope that if you are affected, that the lengths you have gone to for protection minimize any lasting damage.

    • Karen says:

      Thanks, Patricia. Turns out my husband already put the crowbar under the bed, so that’s one less thing for me to do. 😉 Being prepared is no guarantee, but we do what we can….

  6. I talked to my husband about disaster preparedness a couple weeks ago; given the possibility of a Korean attack, preparedness is more prudent than ever, and it’s the popular thing here in Idaho where most folks keep substantial food storage at the ready.

    I think we all need to rethink our new normal these days. Still, I’m not letting the threat of an earthquake keep me from visiting Portland or the Oregon coast, my favorite place.

    • Karen says:

      I don’t think North Korean missiles could reach you, could they? I wonder if the Red Cross has an invasion emergency prep plan. They have every other kind…. Next time you’re in town, give me a yell. We can hang out at Powells.

  7. Lee Ann says:

    Hi Karen!
    Wow–I am so impressed that you are so prepared. I think I am still unpacking boxes from our move, so I haven’t even thought about disaster prep yet. So scary, earthquakes–your ability to blend humor into the unforeseeable, made for good reading. I think I will have to adopt your “What if…” rule for own thinking safety!

    • Karen says:

      Of course you’re still unpacking moving boxes– you’ve moved around the world! Thank you for reading and for thinking that reading is good. And, FWIW, the “what if…” rule works for everything. 😉

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