SALEM — Oregon is sending updated checklists for the aftermath of a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami to state and local emergency response agencies across the state.
The document, called the Cascadia Playbook, details how state officials should respond in the first 14 days following a magnitude 9.0 Cascadia subduction zone earthquake and tsunami off the West Coast. Actions listed in the plan range from the steps necessary to initiate a federal disaster declaration, to collecting bodies and transporting supplies to survivors in areas where roads were destroyed or clogged with debris.
The playbook provides a single checklist for state officials based off numerous federal, state and local emergency response plans, which will also be carried out during the earthquake and tsunami.
“During an emergency or disaster, you have a lot of different things coming from a lot of different directions and it’s easy to be overcome by the scope,” said Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management and Oregon Military Department. “So this really helps the policy makers or decision makers at state government to remain focused on what they need to.”
Gov. Kate Brown and other state officials held an event to publicize the latest version of the playbook earlier this month, and Grogan said the state is sending the document to public agencies across Oregon.
The Cascadia subduction zone runs off the West Coast, from Vancouver, British Columbia, down to northern California.
Researchers at Oregon State University have found the Pacific Northwest is overdue for a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami. In 2012, those researchers published a study that found there were 19 earthquakes from 8.7 to 9.2 along the zone over the last 10,000 years. During the same time frame, there were 22 earthquakes that might have been closer to magnitude 8.0.
The state began working on the playbook in 2013, and published the first version in 2014, said Cory Grogan, a public information officer for the Oregon Office of Emergency Management. The latest version is the product of workshops with a range of emergency responders which concluded this spring, and the state plans to continue refining the plan in future years.
The 100-page document contains 27 pages of emergency contact numbers for employees at state and local governments, plus utility companies and other private organizations. The state will issue updated versions on an annual basis.
Although Oregon developed the playbook for a Cascadia subduction zone earthquake, the state could also use it to guide responses to other disasters such as smaller inland crustal fault earthquakes or oil spills, Grogan said.
For planning purposes, the Oregon Military Department and Office of Emergency Management based the Cascadia Playbook on a magnitude 9.0 earthquake that could cause up to 5 minutes of severe ground shaking, a tsunami, landslides and soil liquefaction. The earthquake and ensuing events could kill as many as 25,000 people, destroy tens of thousands of structures and leave tens of thousands of people without shelter, according to the document.
The situation will be worst in Oregon’s coastal counties: Coos, Curry, Douglas, Lane, Lincoln, Tillamook and Clatsop. People who live on the coast will have as little as 15 minutes warning before a tsunami.
Within minutes of the earthquake, the playbook calls for emergency management staff to notify Oregon’s adjutant general, who oversees the Oregon National Guard and Office of Emergency Management. After the adjutant general informs the governor, the governor will notify the president or secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Other state officials will get in touch with federal agencies, and Oregon will begin the process to declare a statewide disaster to begin the process of mobilizing health care and other emergency services.
Ideally within two hours, the governor — or secretary of state or state treasurer, if the governor is not available — is supposed to decide whether the damage is severe enough to ask the president to declare a major disaster and mobilize help from the federal government.
“We know that if a Cascadia earthquake and tsunami happens, its’ going to be an automatic federal disaster declaration,” Grogan said.
The playbook calls for the mobilization of first responders starting within minutes of the earthquake to evacuate people from the worst hit areas. The state will coordinate an aerial assessment of shelters and supply staging areas, identify “lifeline roadways, bridges and tunnels and facilitate debris removal” and work on getting supplies and emergency personnel to earthquake and tsunami-damaged areas.
State officials will also work to set up communications systems so that emergency responders can talk to cities, counties, tribal governments and utility companies. The state and local public works employees will try to restore public services — such as potable water and sewer — where possible to serve survivors.
The playbook checklist also includes a topic state emergency officials wish they did not have to plan for, but which they know from experience they must include in the response: handling bodes of people who died in the earthquake or tsunami, landslide or other events that followed.
“It’s hard for us to think about,” Grogan said. “But it’s extremely important to deal with it ... We know with Cascadia that’s going to be an issue, so it’s important to deal with it in advance.”
Grogan said emergency officials saw what could go wrong during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Bodies laid in the streets for a week, as state and federal agencies disagreed over who was responsible for recovering the victims.
The playbook also lists actions the state will take to set up facilities to care for livestock and pets following the disaster, and reunite the animals with the owners.
It could take 24 hours to a week for Oregon to begin receiving help from outside the state, including from agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Department of Transportation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, according to the playbook. The Department of State will even get involved, to manage offers of assistance from foreign countries and international humanitarian organizations.
State officials hope they will be able to begin recovery work — initial steps to restore basic community services such as law enforcement, health care and schools — within eight days, although part of the work consists of identifying long-term recovery needs such as rebuilding systems to provide potable water and telecommunications.
Although the playbook focuses on how the state will respond to a Cascadia subduction zone earthquake, state officials said there are also actions that individuals, communities and the state can take to increase their chances of surviving the major quake.
“It’s still really important for individuals to have a plan and be prepared, as well, to empower themselves during a disaster,” Grogan said.
Individuals and families should build earthquake kits with enough food, water and other supplies to last two weeks. Grogan said Cannon Beach took an innovative approach by creating a cache on high ground outside the tsunami zone where people can store their emergency kits.
The state is also holding the “great Oregon shakeout” at 10:15 a.m. on Oct. 15, to raise awareness and encourage people to plan for earthquakes. During the drill, people are supposed to drop to the ground, take cover under a sturdy desk or table, and hold onto it.
Other state agencies are working on projects that could change make earthquake and tsunami planning a larger factor in the way coastal communities plan for future development.
Ali Ryan Hansen, earth science information officer for the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, said the agency is in the process of updating its tsunami inundation line to more accurately reflect areas that will likely be submerged under a giant wave.
Oregon does not allow construction of new “essential structures” such as schools, hospitals and police stations on the seaward side of the tsunami line, and Ryan Hansen said the agency plans to hold public meetings on the new proposed line in March. A state board could vote to adopt the new line in summer 2016.
The redrawn line would mean an additional 30 to 40 percent of land in coastal cities would be off-limits for new “essential structures.”
Officials at the geology agency and Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development are also waiting to hear whether the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will award Oregon a $600,000 grant to improve mapping and time estimates for tsunami evacuation routes. The state would also provide the tools for cities and counties along the coast to use in land use planning decisions.
“The focus really is on more comprehensive planning and development of code at those local levels to increase resilience and reduce risk,” Ryan Hansen said. “It’s really about bringing these tools to the communities, and then providing the support they need to make these decisions.”