Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mt. St. Helens by Darren Hergert

PHS 100
Warner Pacific College
October 12, 2010

Preparing for the Big One

I have seen many spectaculars things in my life such as Niagara Falls and The Great Wall of China, but neither of these sights touches the magnitude of what I saw on May 18, 1980. At just after 8:30 in the morning, my wife of one day and I opened up the curtains from our honeymoon suite at the Marriott Riverfront to the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. Never had I seen nature’s fury so close to home; even today, the only suitable word that describes that event is—extraordinary!
Yet, this volcanic eruption will pale in comparison to what is being predicted for the Northwest over the next 50 years. In a June 2, 2010 article from Before it’s News, scientists are now predicting that there is a one-in-three chance that the Northwest will see a mega-quake in the next 50 years. Painting a complex picture of the Cascadia Subduction zone, scientists from Oregon State University have found that the Cascadia represents at least four separate segments, rather than one big subduction zone. Mega-quakes of magnitude-9 or greater occur less frequently in the northern segment and can rupture the entire fault. This is not about whether the “big one” will happen, but when it will happen.
Just as the eruption of St. Helens had a trickle-down effect on the cities, forest and citizens it rolled over, so too, will an earthquake of the magnitude of 9-or greater. As someone who is old enough to remember the film Earthquake, what appeared as far-fetched could actually be understating such a disaster in the Northwest. For one, Californians are much more subjected to earthquakes which probably explains why the month of April is set aside as “Earthquake Preparedness Month” (State of California). The Pacific Northwest on the other-hand, rarely gets earthquakes let alone tremors which perpetuate this “never happen to me” mentality. Maybe this explains why only 20 percent of Oregonians have earthquake insurance. In a January publication of the Portland Business Journal, Cory Streisinger, director of the Department of Consumers and Business Services suggests that “Consumers may want to think about their ability to rebuild if their house is destroyed in an earthquake.” Moreover, “Insurance should be weighed as part of other earthquake preparations.”
If society is not willing to protect what is arguably the largest expenditure in one’s lifetime, how can we depend on people to be responsible in preparing for a natural disaster? Although earthquakes typically last only seconds, we know that at an 8-9 magnitude the damage will be extensive. Contrary to the St. Helens eruption, this natural disaster would likely encompass populated areas. Damage would almost certainly impact buildings; gas and water flow; electricity and phone lines. “In fact, the primary cause of damage in modern earthquakes in developed countries is fire which is started by broken gas pipes and power lines” (Natural hazards).
As a citizen of the Northwest, I admit that I have fallen prey to complacency in this area. Although I am in the minority as someone with earthquake insurance, I confess that I would be ill prepared to handle an earthquake of this level. We owe it to our families to prepare for the inevitable and we can do this by applying prevention versus a reactionary response. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this should include the following:

• Evacuation plan
o take time to discuss how the family would vacate the house after the quake
o Plan a second route if the first plan fails
o Mark where you emergency food, water and first aid kits and fire extinguishers are located
o Indicate the location of your family’s emergency outdoor meeting place

• Establish priorities
o Hand carry important items
o If time permits, lock doors and windows; turn off utilities

• Write down important information
o Such as telephone numbers (police, fire, paramedics)
o Names, addresses, and phone numbers of insurance agents, including policy types and numbers
o Neighbors phone numbers
o Vehicle ID number
o Bank account information

• Gather and store important documents in a fire-proof safe
o Birth certificates
o Ownership certificates
o Social Security cards
o Wills
o Insurance policies
o List content of home


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2003). Being prepared for an earthquake.

Retrieved October 10, 2010 from,

Gardner, Z. (2010, June 2). Major earthquake predicted for northwest; odds 1-in-3 for Northwest

mega-quake within 50 years. Before it’s news. Retrieved October 9, 2010 from,

State of California Department of Conservation. (2007, April 6). California geological survey

reminds Californians to be prepared for earthquakes. Retrieved October 10, 2010 from,

Unknown. (2010, January 18). Few Oregonians have earthquake insurance. Retrieved October 9,

2010 from,

Unknown. (n.d.). What are natural hazards? Retrieved October 9, 2010 from,

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