Bend would be the center of the state’s emergency response in the worst-case scenario of a catastrophic earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the Oregon Coast, according to a new state report.
The Oregon National Guard Youth Challenge Program’s Bend campus on Dodds Road is the fallback site for the state’s Emergency Coordinating Center if the current command center and two other locations in Salem are knocked out.
The Bend site was listed as backup Emergency Coordinating Center in the state’s newly revised Cascadia Playbook, a 100-page outline of actions to be taken in the first hours and days after the disaster. The playbook covers the first two weeks after an earthquake.
Scientists have predicted a possible 9.0 scale earthquake and subsequent tsunami along the 700-mile subduction zone could kill up to 25,000 people in the Pacific Northwest. While the earthquake would be felt in Central Oregon, areas east of the Cascades are expected to escape with light to moderate damage.
That could make Bend the linchpin in state plans for a worst-case scenario disaster.
“The youth facility has plenty of capacity for people to bunk down, IT capability and communications facilities,” said Andrew Phelps, director of the state Office of Emergency Management.
Oregon Youth Challenge Program is a tuition-free, residential alternative high school associated with the National Guard that draws at-risk students from across Oregon.
The campus 9 miles east of Bend is currently undergoing a $10 million renovation and building program to expand its facilities, including a new dormitory. Buildings are also being seismically retrofitted to withstand earthquakes. When work is completed, the campus will be able to house 240 students.
Because Oregon lacks the major military bases of neighboring California and Washington, the Redmond Airport would also likely be a central staging ground if airfields at Portland, Salem, Eugene, Medford and other points west of the Cascades are rendered unusable.
“We don’t have that large federal footprint, like Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, where you can expand operations without much additional planning,” Phelps said. “We need to make sure we are on the same page as our federal partners about what they are going to bring, and when and where they are going to bring it.”
Redmond Airport has two runways. Its principal runway is 7,038 feet long. The secondary runway, at 7,006 feet long, has recently undergone a $10.1 million upgrade to bring its lights and paving up to Federal Aviation Administration standards. The Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, the military’s main heavy lift transport and cargo aircraft, can take off and land on runways as short as 3,500 feet.
Phelps said Central Oregon would also likely be where many people leaving the earthquake zone would go, especially if major north-south highways are knocked out.
“A large number of folks will choose to leave the Willamette Valley or the coast and would go east,” Phelps said. “They may not be in Central Oregon for a long time, but it will be a stopping point on the way. It would be a staging area for humanitarian relief.”
The state is also planning to build a new National Guard Readiness Center on 20 acres south of Redmond near the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center. The facility will be built to withstand a major earthquake and will be the state’s most seismically advanced National Guard facility.
According to the Cascadia Playbook, state officials forecast an earthquake that would last 4 to 6 minutes, followed in as little as 15 minutes by a tsunami that might hit coastal areas with waves up to 80 feet high.
Fatalities could top 25,000 with tens of thousands of buildings destroyed, highways collapsed, electrical and other utilities broken and communications knocked out. The total economic loss would likely be more than $30 billion, making it the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history.
It has only been in the past 25 years that scientists have begun paying close attention to the Cascadia Subduction Zone. It’s a spot about 50 to 75 miles off the coast of Oregon where two of the earth’s geological plates meet — the Juan de Fuca plate is slowly folding under the North American plate. The zone stretches from the west coast of Vancouver Island in the north to just off Eureka, California, in the south.
Geologists have found that an 8.0 earthquake along the Juan de Fuca plate has occurred on average every 250 years over the past 10,000 years.
A 9.0 earthquake occurs every 540 years.
The last major quake along the line, a 9.0, occurred in 1700, 318 years ago.
Scientists now estimate there is a 7 percent to 12 percent chance that a major earthquake and tsunami will affect the Northwest within the next 50 years. The chances for a large, but less devastating quake centered around Southern Oregon and Northern California is 37 percent over the next 50 years.
“If just a portion of the zone moves, it tends to be in the south end,” Phelps said.
The more catastrophic scenario is for a 9.0 earthquake along the entire zone from Canada to the California border. That would destroy much of the infrastructure west of the Cascades, according to state and federal officials
In a 2015 New Yorker magazine article on a possible Cascadia earthquake, Kenneth Murphy, who then directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency Region 10, responsible for Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska, said, “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.”
The earthquake would likely drop areas along the coast by several feet below sea level. The combination of lower elevations and the action of the earthquake could send tsunami surges of up to 80 feet above sea level into coastal areas and also flood the estuaries of the Columbia, Willamette and other rivers.
Oregon hopes to implement a $12 million statewide earthquake and tsunami early warning system by 2023. The plan is for it to link up with existing and planned warning systems in California and Washington to offer a regional alert. Scientists have said that a Cascadia event could begin on the southern or northern end of the zone, far from Oregon, and that the initial shock wave might not be felt in some areas.
The Office of Emergency Management is also working with local governments, community groups and the American Red Cross on a $1.6 million plan to ensure that 250,000 homes in the earthquake zone have a two-week supply of water, food, medicine and other supplies in place by 2021.
The state also plans to spend $11.1 million to develop “more robust logistical staging bases,” according to the governor’s proposed budget.
“When the next Cascadia subduction zone earthquake strikes the Pacific Northwest, Oregon will face the greatest challenge of our lifetimes,” Gov. Kate Brown said in a statement in October. “Oregon’s buildings, transportation network, utilities, and population are not as ready as they should be and we must accelerate our preparations.”
— Reporter: 541-640-2750, firstname.lastname@example.org