Portland is unprepared for a big earthquake

| Print |  Email
Articles - November 2010
Thursday, October 21, 2010

1110_ShakeDown02We know the earthquake is coming and we know the damage will be bad. A seismic vulnerability report published last fall by the Oregon Department of Transportation provides a typically gloomy assessment, stating: “The effects of this (9.0 Cascadia) earthquake would be widespread across the most dynamic portion of the transportation network.” The report describes, among the carnage, an impassable Highway 101, closure of all state routes between 101 and I-5, 400 collapsed bridges, 600 damaged bridges and widespread damage to I-5.

“You know how a report usually says: ‘A portion of the highway will remain closed?’” asks Kent Yu, a structural engineer with Degenkolb Engineers and an OSSPAC member. “Well, this one says: ‘A portion of I-5 will remain open.’ That’s how grave the situation is.”

The energy situation is equally dire. Oregon imports 90% of its fuel from Washington, most of which is stored in tank farms along the Willamette River. But the majority of those storage facilities do not meet seismic standards and sit on soil that will liquefy during a major quake, says Deanna Henry, emergency preparedness manager for the Oregon Department of Energy. “These are old, old, old tanks on bad, bad, bad soil,” she says. The pipelines were not built to seismic standards either, she says.

Fuel is the linchpin of the recovery system — without it, efforts to restore the electrical grid in the aftermath of a seismic event will be severely compromised. “Maintenance trucks cannot do grid backup without fuel, and if I can’t get fuel out to maintenance trucks — it’s a vicious cycle,” Henry says.

Henry adds that a Cascadia quake would “most likely devastate” terminals at the Port of Portland, which also sit on liquefiable soils.

The condition of Portland’s older commercial buildings adds to the litany of woes. Of greatest concern are the 1,700 unreinforced masonry structures deemed at high risk of collapse in a major quake. Under Oregon code, property owners are required to complete seismic retrofits only when there is a change in use or major renovation. “But because of the costs involved, many property owners try to avoid triggering those thresholds,” says Mark Chubb, operations manager for the city of Portland Office of Emergency Management.

Even new buildings are vulnerable. Oregon’s earthquake construction standards, which were implemented in 1994, do not take into account the extended duration associated with subduction zone quakes, about 4 to 5 minutes of continuous shaking, says  Stacy Bartoletti, president of Degenkolb. “We are not designing our buildings any differently than in California, where the earthquakes have a shorter duration,” he says. The ground motions produced by subduction zone quakes are particularly hazardous for mid- to high-rise towers, Bartoletti adds.



 

Comments   

 
Jay Raskin
+1 #1 Regional disasterJay Raskin 2010-10-28 08:57:47
As bad (and accurate) as the impacts described in this article are, the situation is actually worse, since this will be a regional disaster and have similar impacts for Seattle, Tacoma, Vancouver and all the way down to northern California. As we grapple with Cascadia, we also need to coordinating our efforts with our neighboring states and the Federal government. This is being done to some degree but needs a more concerted effort. One last point about transportation, the Columbia River channel will also likely fill in, cutting off shipping from the river ports.
Quote | Report to administrator
 
 
Edward Wolf
+1 #2 Seismic resilience is sustainabilityEdward Wolf 2010-10-28 09:46:15
This article makes an astute point about the need to tie seismic resilience to sustainable business practices. The emerging "green shoots" of a new regional economy based on sustainability, from Solar World USA and Vestas all the way down to local food-and-farm networks, will come to a standstill if our transportation, communication, and transmission infrastructures all fail in the aftermath of a Cascadia quake. Seismic resilience is sustainability, and we need green leaders (and other sectors, too) who will say so, and act on their belief.
Quote | Report to administrator
 
 
C Rogers
0 #3 Lower your expectations...C Rogers 2010-11-19 11:17:37
Seismic codes helps to mitigate death and injury not to prevent damage to the building.
Quote | Report to administrator
 

More Articles

Ski traffic

News
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
0121-skiway-thumbBY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR

A place-based multimodal transportation plan for Mt. Hood is long overdue.


Read more...

Live, Work, Play: Amen Teter

February 2015
Tuesday, January 27, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER

Catching up with Amen Teter, Portland-based global director of action sports for Octagon Olympics & Action sports talent agency.


Read more...

Crowdfunding 2.0

News
Tuesday, December 02, 2014
120214-crowdfund-thumbBY LINDA BAKER

A conversation with attorney Erich Merrill about the latest way to raise money from large groups of people.


Read more...

The short list: Holiday habits of six Oregon CEOs

The Latest
Thursday, December 11, 2014
121214-xmaslist1BY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

We ask business and nonprofit leaders how they survive the season.


Read more...

Closing the Gap: The two Oregons and the way forward

February 2015
Monday, January 26, 2015
BY JOE CORTRIGHT

"Nostalgia is not an economic strategy."


Read more...

Corner Office: Pam Edstrom

January-Powerbook 2015
Saturday, December 13, 2014

Seven tidbits of information from an agency partner and co-founder of Waggener Edstrom in Lake Oswego.


Read more...

Light Moves

February 2015
Monday, January 26, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER

Fittingly, Light at Play — a business whose sole purpose is to create mesmerizing ambience — was conceived at Burning Man.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS