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How students can be better prepared for the Cascadia earthquake

Kathleen Forrest


Welcome to Oregon. We’ve got oceans to the left of us, mountains all around us, and a tectonic plate subducting underneath another that is ready to cause an earthquake any day. So what can you do to best prepare for the impending Cascadia quake? The Collegian interviewed the City of Salem Emergency Manager Greg Walsh, and President of Willamette Emergency Medical Services (WEMS) Nathan Brown (‘22) to find out.

Graphic by Maizy Goerlitz

Most of the University resources on the website and in the safety guide posted around campus give only basic safety instructions and directions to phone numbers and websites, but those resources likely won’t be accessible if or when the campus and city technological infrastructure is hit. Thus, turning to those basic instructions once the earthquake hits will be better than nothing, but still a bit too late. To be best prepared, you can sign up for the early warning system for earthquakes, giving you a maximum of 80 seconds advance notice. The advice reiterated by individuals like Brown and Walsh, and that was also aggressively present in the philosophy of emergency preparedness and response, is to seek out better instructions before you need them. This will also give you greater confidence in following them when you need it, consequently helping you avoid what can be deadly hesitation. “Just knowing what to do when an earthquake happens and not panicking [is important] because the likelihood of getting injured in an earthquake is quite low if you follow the protocols that are set by people that know what they’re talking about,” said Brown.

Taking care of oneself also does active good for the community because it alleviates what could alternatively be yet another drain on communal resources. Brown has an even more straightforward directive on it, saying that people should “find out what they need to do to not cause more chaos.” This extends not just to the amorphous “communal chaos,” but also in terms of those you hold most dear, a point highlighted by Walsh: “If you’re not prepared to weather and survive an emergency then you’re not going to be able to help others. Who depends on you? Do your parents depend on you, does your pet depend on you, what’s going to rely on you for support during an emergency?” This means that for your household, being two weeks ready includes having at least two weeks worth of pet food stored. Similarly, if you or your family members have essential medications, you need to have at least two weeks worth of them (potentially even more).

If I had a dollar for every time a person I interviewed reiterated “food and water”, I would have enough money to buy enough distilled water (a gallon per person per day) to be four weeks ready. Walsh explained that this actively factors into how emergency responders prioritize response: “human bodies can only go three days without drinking water… So in a lot of situations where there are search and rescue [teams] for buildings, generally after four days they stop looking. So it’s one of those things where if everyone has water with them, you extend the longevity of everybody by a couple days.”

Additionally, you should also be prepared for a potential evacuation and the conditions you’ll meet as a result. This is a large part of adapting to Oregon and the Pacific Northwest in regards to climate and specific hazards. Says Walsh: “Have a decent jacket, dress appropriate for the Oregon weather. What happens if you have to go outside and then be outside for the next three days? Do you have the right jacket, the right pants and boots? If you’re away from your stuff, do you have something in your car?”

Walsh is also a very strong advocate for individuals learning any level of first aid. “If you can take some basic first aid, even if it's just like a ‘stop the bleed’ class or learn how to apply a tourniquet. If you can stop somebody from bleeding out in the first couple minutes, you really exponentially will be able to help people who are hurt,” he said. Seattle Emergency Management has a video on ‘stop the bleed’ on Youtube that will take a grand total of 3 minutes and 32 seconds to watch, and those 3 minutes of your life can be the difference in saving someone else's. “That little bit that goes into it beforehand makes a huge difference on the backside. That little bit of preparedness, a little bit of fundamental education.” This is a point reiterated by many of the interviewees: something is still something and a little goes a long way.

However, when a little goes a long way, consider how much a lot could do. Not just in terms of gaining new skills and knowledge, but also in reinforcing the ones that you’ve already developed, for example building muscle memory and reflex and response time. WEMS is going to be running an Emergency Medical Responder class over Spring Break, Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. After completing the course, people can volunteer with WEMS and help alleviate how thinly they are stretched, and be better prepared to help themselves, their friends and family, and their community in a mass casualty event.

When it comes to the vast amount of free online resources, there is little excuse not to learn and better yourself. Even when it comes to people who are not able-bodied or otherwise cannot implement that knowledge, they could still direct someone else who is. Worst case scenario, they will make for a better patient in case they ever need assistance.

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