Author: CPREP President Steve Robinson
We know that the earth is warming. This is causing many problems here in America, with excessive heat, superstorms and the like. Low-lying and tropical regions worldwide are at greater risk of flooding and historic heat waves.
We also know that the Pacific Northwest is susceptible to monster earthquake and tsunami events that have occurred at random intervals for as far back as geological evidence is available. The vast majority of Oregon’s liquid fuel reserves are stored in a giant facility in Portland, consisting of fuel tanks – some a century old – built on liquefiable soil along the Willamette River. When the Cascadia quake hits, this entire facility is at risk of total destruction, causing an environmental catastrophe that exacerbates the physical damage to the built environment from the quake. It will be many months before FEMA is able to supply liquid fuel to meet the needs of the 10 million people living in the earthquake-prone zone.
One approach that deals with both problems is to move as quickly as possible away from fossil fuel as an energy source and toward solar, biomass and wind. Reducing carbon emissions will help mitigate climate change. And reducing our reliance on fossil fuel will increase our earthquake resilience by allowing for energy to be generated locally, not dependent on quake-vulnerable fuel pipelines.
After watching the video footage from the July 27th Portland City Club’s Friday Forum on earthquake preparedness, I have a few thoughts. I think all of the government employees on the panel did a great job. But my biggest concern about resilience-building efforts to date is that government employees are limited to describing actual programs, and are constrained from offering policy suggestions. For visionary solutions, we must look to elected officials and private-sector leaders, but there weren't any private sector folks on the panel.
My suggestion is that in order to “surround the problem,” we need to mount a stronger resilience effort. This should include by beefing up the Chief Resilience Officer’s operation as well as incorporating all levels of the private sector, including industry organizations in a major role. We need someone to start putting forth a vision of how we get to where we need to go, rather than just dealing with granular aspects of preparedness. I hope the state government gets to that place, but so far I'm not seeing it. The panel gave positive examples about efforts that are being made, but I don't remember anybody offering an idea of how soon we could achieve a good state of resilience (or even how we could determine what a "good" state looks like) given the current trajectory of programs.
At Cascadia Prepared, we are developing our resilience scorecard project, which will look at our critical “lifeline” infrastructure, applaud achievements, assign a “score” of the current state of resilience for each one, and then suggest what actions could be taken, by whom, in order to raise that score.
I have tremendous respect for the work of everyone on stage; Jay Wilson, Clackamas County Resilience Coordinator, Yumei Wang, Geotechnical Engineer, Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, Megan Niell, Engineering Services Manager, Multnomah County, and Jonna Papaefthimiou, Planning and Community Resilience Manager, Portland Bureau of Emergency Management. My comments as a former government employee with roots in the private sector should not be taken as criticism of their work, but simply as how I analyze the dynamics.