Film: Oregon not prepared for big earthquake
(Photo: Don Ryan, AP)
After watching the first eight minutes of the new documentary "Unprepared," I wanted to hide under a table.
By halfway thought the film, I was worried about sending my daughter to school, living in downtown Portland, visiting the Oregon Coast or even crossing a bridge.
The one-hour documentary — which airs 8 p.m. Oct. 1 on Oregon Public Broadcasting — paints an unflinching portrait of what's likely to happen if a magnitude 9 earthquake strikes the Pacific Northwest coast tomorrow.
Scientists say the odds of that happening in the next 50 years are roughly 1 in 3 and that Western Oregon is so ill-prepared it would mean a sweeping disaster capable of mass casualties and destruction that could cripple the region for months or years.
"Oregon is so unprepared that there was no way to gloss over it," said Ed Jahn, who produced the film for the long-running broadcast show Oregon Field Guide. "I'd originally hoped this would have a much more positive and uplifting tone, at least by the end of the film. But the reality is that we're not there yet, and we have to face it."
The film uses dramatic footage taken from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan to show Oregonians what they can expect. But it also shows how Japan's preparation for earthquakes — seismically retrofitting hospitals, bridges and the airport — helped the county get supplies into disaster zones and get back on its feet quicker than might be expected.
The contrast between Japan and Oregon is a major part of the film. It's clear that it would require a major investment in Oregon's decades-old infrastructure, along with better planning, to mitigate the damage from a super-quake.
The 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan shows the possible devastation from a 9.0 magnitude earthquake on the Oregon Coast. (Photo: National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration)
"A lot of the big questions haven't been floated before the public yet, and we wanted to raise that conversation," Jahn said. "Is it time to spend more to prepare schools and hospitals? Is it time to require that buildings get upgraded? Those questions haven't been put to voters yet, so we wanted to put that front and center."
The film also focuses on the smaller, more personal details, including how families can put together a kit of emergency supplies. After a major quake, people may be on their own for two to three weeks without access to food and water.
By the end of the film, once I climbed out from under the table, it was the message of doing what you can for your family ahead of time that resonated. There's nothing we can do to prevent a Cascadia quake from happening, after all, but each family can take steps to be self-reliant when the big one hits."Don't let this overwhelm your life and overly cloud your life," said Patrick Corcoran, a coastal hazards outreach specialist, toward the end of the film. "Have it be something that we know about and ... plan for, like rain. We know to wear rain jackets even though the sun is out."