Earthquake ready: Early warning system update, how to prep emergency kit

Dr. Leland O'Driscoll, Oregon's Seismic Network manager, discusses a demonstration of the Shake Alert early warning system. (KATU Photo)

The feared Cascadia earthquake has a 40 percent chance of happening in the next 50 years, according to scientists. Others are working to make sure you have time to take cover. The early warning system known as "Shake Alert" is 38 percent completed in Oregon, with an anticipated completion date of potentially 2020.

"You just never know when it's going to happen!" explains Wade Krawec, who has lived through two earthquakes and says he is ready for the next. "I do think sometimes I'm stupid: 'Why am I living in a place where I could die?'"

Preventing deaths and injury is the goal of the early warning system "Shake Alert."

"We still face a challenge of delivering millions of alerts to phones at once. It simply overwhelms the networks," explains Dr. Leland O'Driscoll, Oregon's Seismic Network manager, and that's why we're a few years away from Shake Alert going live in Oregon and Washington. Scientists still need to place dozens of sensors that detect ground movement.

"In the end -- when it reaches the public, say on the cellphone on the far end -- the cellphone will display 'strong shaking expected, take protective action,'" Dr. O'Driscoll says.

Scientists are slowly testing the system. Imagine lights automatically activating to warn people from crossing bridges, TriMet trains automatically slowing down, and doors at fire departments automatically open.

"The public will -- maybe in some cases -- hear a PA announcement saying, 'Strong shaking expected -- take protective action,'" O'Driscoll explains. "So, there would be that spectrum of simple messaging."

If the feared Cascadia earthquake hits in a worst-case scenario -- in the middle of a weekday when people are at work and kids are at school -- a recent study estimates there could be 27,000 casualties, from minor injuries to death.

"Have an out-of-state contact that everyone could call. So, if you're separated from your family and somehow you are able to get a message out, you're more likely to reach someone in another part of the country," says Dan Douthit, spokesperson for Portland Bureau of Emergency Management.

After an earthquake, there would be about 50 sites set up in the city, known as a BEECN. It stands for Basic Earthquake Emergency Communication Node.

"We'll have volunteers with information; they'll have radios. So, if you're injured or if you need information on where to go for food or water," Douthit says.

The hope is people prepare.

"If you haven't experienced something you're a bit in denial," Krawec says. "And you know, people are in denial about a lot of things."

Experts say you should have two weeks' worth of food and water, as it could be that long before help arrives.


Inside Mark Ginsberg's garage, there's evidence of a busy life.

"This is the reality of a garage. It's not perfect and it's not clean, but it's all in here," Ginsberg says of the emergency supplies interwoven with gear for his family's adventures.

"One of the first things I have is a gas shut-off tool."

As a member of the Neighborhood Emergency Team or NET program, he's ready for the feared Cascadia earthquake with water and food for his entire family that could last them two weeks.

"If your family likes things that are canned and open-able -- soup, tuna fish, anything like that. Buy extra when it's on sale," Ginsberg says.

He has a first-aid kit, tents, mats, a camping grill, to name a few things.

"It's ongoing. The first thing people should know, it's better to have something than nothing. I think a lot of people get intimidated, if they can't do it perfectly, then they don't even start," he said.

Laura Hall, with the Regional Disaster Preparedness Organization, shows us the twin bucket system -- a must-have in your emergency preparedness kit.

"This allows us to stay healthy. We keep our pee and our poo separate from one another," Hall explains.

Urine is sterile and you can toss it. But number two is a different story.

"Bacteria viruses, and all kinds of things that make us ill," Halls says.

In other words, you don't want to survive the earthquake only to get deathly ill.

You place a trash bag inside the bucket. After each use, you'd throw dirt or bark dust on top.

"It allows air flow, which will help dry it out, and that will reduce both the odor and the bulk," Hall explains.

When the bag is half full, you'd double bag it and then place it in your yard far away from everyone else.

"If every person in Portland had some water and some camping gear and some toilet paper, it means all of us could be helpful to one another, be supportive of one another, it would go much further than if we suddenly have a problem and no one has anything," Ginsberg says.

Mark gets his kids involved in preparedness, and hopes his neighbors do, too.

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