I was asked by Tom Booth, Associate Director of the Oregon State University Press, if I was interested in publishing an online version of Living with Earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest, to be made available to students and the general public without charge. The two print editions, published in 1998 and 2004, have been used in classes as part of OSU’s Baccalaureate Core Curriculum, showing how science and technology have contributed to our society. The book has also been a source of information on how people of the Northwest should prepare themselves for the next, inevitable earthquake.
The idea of a free online book appealed to me, because students would not have to worry about selling the book back to the bookstore but could keep it as a resource if they remained in the Northwest. An online edition allows me to include color photographs and maps, which I could not do in the earlier editions except for the book cover. In addition, this third edition includes earthquake-related animations graciously supplied by Jenda Johnson, an OSU graduate in geology, and Dr. Robert Butler of the University of Portland. These videos have further references to videos by the Incorporated Research Institutions in Seismology (IRIS), which have been made in cooperation with Jenda Johnson and Bob Butler. You are urged to view these yourself and persuade your friends and family to view them also, because the videos stress the need for preparedness against the next catastrophic Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.
The study of the Cascadia Subduction Zone continues to advance, from its first recognition as a seismic hazard in the 1980s to the development by Chris Goldfinger of a paleoseismic earthquake history over the past 10,000 years, the longest subduction-zone record on Earth. The magnitude 9 earthquake and accompanying tsunami that we are expecting in the Northwest happened first in northeast Japan on March 11, 2011; the effects that were indicated based on geological evidence, such as sudden coseismic subsidence of the coast, were actually observed and photographed in Japan. This gave us new information on our own Cascadia earthquake, still in the not-too-distant future.
The Japanese are the best prepared society on Earth when it comes to earthquakes, but they underestimated the size of the accompanying tsunami, which resulted in the deaths of nearly sixteen thousand people in 2011. Let’s hope this does not happen to us.
Another development was an assessment of the cost of doing nothing, or of taking only token steps toward earthquake preparedness. Scientists still are unable to predict the time, place, and magnitude of the next damaging earthquake, and this has given society and its decision-makers an excuse not to spend the money that is needed to prepare for the next one. Some legislators, particularly those representing citizens living on the coast, were concerned about this and wanted to know what the cost would be of not taking steps in advance. Both Oregon and Washington authorized resilience surveys in which the effects of a large earthquake were calculated by working groups of structural engineers, earth scientists, planners, and general citizens. These working groups found that many buildings, including schools, hospitals, and command centers for local government, are likely to collapse during the next earthquake, with the loss of thousands of lives—this would be the greatest catastrophe in the two centuries that the Northwest has been under settlement by people of European descent. Their findings are summarized in a report by the Cascadia Regional Earthquake Workgroup (CREW). The legislature has authorized a continuation of their surveys under the leadership of Scott Ashford, Dean of Engineering at OSU.
In addition to losses incurred during such an earthquake, including the destruction of businesses and critical facilities like hospitals, the resilience surveys show that western Oregon and Washington would take many months to recover to pre-earthquake conditions. Businesses, particularly those on the coast, would be forced to relocate, taking jobs and the tax base with them. The comparison would be with New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, devastated after the failure of levees along the Mississippi River and flooding of populated areas such as the Ninth Ward. Years after Hurricane Katrina, the population and economy of New Orleans still have not recovered. This is likely to be the situation in the Northwest, especially along the coast, except on a much larger scale. Recovery in the affected states (and the Canadian province of British Columbia) would require the expenditure of large amounts of money over a period of many years. How will this be paid for?
My objective is for you to use this book as a guide to preparation for the next earthquake, a far more important goal than just taking the baccalaureate core course. The information in this book should provide the arguments you need to become an advocate for major strengthening of our society against the coming earthquake. The future of the Northwest will depend on a society that has prepared itself to survive the earthquake. The book is being published online, which will permit us to update it as new information becomes available.
On behalf of the people responsible for preparing the Northwest for the next subduction-zone earthquake, I express my gratitude to the Oregon State University Press for selecting this book to be published in an online edition that will be available free to students taking our earthquake class, and especially to the larger community of residents of the Northwest and British Columbia who will be able to use this book in preparing our region against the arrival of the inevitable catastrophic subduction-zone earthquake.