Earthquake News

Though Cascadia earthquake may be long off, local experts encourage preparation.

Hayden Lohr, News Contributor
December 22, 2021

With several earthquakes recently hitting off the Oregon coast, Oregonians are reminded of the Cascadia fault, which will produce a powerful earthquake that could have severe effects on Corvallis, Ore.

According to experts, the Cascadia fault has the potential to release a substantial earthquake with impacts from Northern California to southern British Columbia in Canada.

The last major earthquake on the Cascadia fault line was in 1700; this has been proven by geological records and tree rings, as well as oral traditions from Indigenous and First Nations people. Very little is known about the history of the fault or its earthquake potential, according to Andrew Meigs, a geology professor at Oregon State University.

“The Cascadia subduction zone may have produced earthquakes as large as [magnitude 9] in the past,” Meigs said. “The Corvallis fault could potentially generate a [magnitude 7] earthquake… The likelihood of an earthquake tomorrow is minuscule, slightly larger in the next 10 years and, according to the work of Chris Goldfinger—professor in [OSU’s] College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences—about a 37% chance of occurring in the next 50 years.”

With the likelihood of an earthquake in the future, cities throughout the region have imposed building codes in order to protect citizens and local communities. According to Bryan Lee, the emergency manager at the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, older buildings can sometimes be better prepared for earthquakes, especially those made of wood.

“Building-wise, we do not have a lot of unreinforced masonry,” Lee said. “Most standard wood construction homes will do ‘well’ in earthquakes and tend to not fully collapse; however, there is a big difference between a full collapse and a livable home.”

However, Meigs pointed out that many of the buildings on Oregon State University’s campus and in cities like Portland, Ore. have a lot of unreinforced masonry buildings that are particularly vulnerable to damage caused by earthquakes.

“Directly in our area, the earthquake fatalities itself may be relatively small,” Lee said. “However, the possible fatalities from the prolonged disruption of services will be a major concern… ‘Normal’ is relative but will likely take years to decades. There are still areas of New Orleans, La. that have impacts from Hurricane Katrina. For many, it will not be possible to return to normal due to the level of extensive damage and the psychology of living in a disaster zone.”

Lee and Meigs both emphasized the necessity to prepare, both at an individual level by having a disaster plan and supplies, and at a governmental level through building codes and community response plans.

“All disasters begin and end locally,” Lee said. “A Cascadia Subduction Zone event would be considered a national emergency impacting most of the West Coast as well as possibly sending tsunami waves or ocean surges to Hawaii and Alaska. Realistically, we will never be truly prepared adequately for such an event.”

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