We are in denial about earthquakes. During the past fifteen years, scientists have reached a consensus that great earthquakes have struck the Pacific Northwest, and more will arrive in the near future. The government has responded by upgrading construction standards and establishing an infrastructure of emergency services down to the county level. Media reports take it as a given that there will be future damaging earthquakes.
Yet if the average person were to list the top ten concerns in his or her daily life, earthquakes probably would not make the list, not even in California.
In terms of public perception, earthquakes might not be all that different from other disasters such as floods or wildfires. Television reports show expensive homes burned out by forest fires, or homes flooded out in the Willamette Valley, but since people own the land on which their former homes stood, they tend to rebuild in the same place, if local government will let them. In the new suburbs of Seattle and Portland, some are opposed to laws restricting buildings next to an active fault or landslide. Nobody seems to learn anything.
There’s the story about sheep grazing at the edge of a field. A wolf comes out of the forest, grabs a sheep, and carries it off. The other sheep scatter and bleat for a few minutes, then continue their grazing. The forest is still there, and the wolf will come back, but the sheep graze on.
So it is with earthquakes. The Scotts Mills Earthquake struck in 1993, a flurry of excitement followed, and newspaper editorials referred to the earthquake as a wake-up call (see the Oregonian by Jack Ohman cartoon at the beginning of the book). A person living in Vancouver, Everett, or Eugene—cities not struck by a damaging earthquake during the time people have been keeping records—simply do not believe earthquakes are a problem. Local elected officials don’t believe it either. The Nisqually Earthquake was a major story in early 2001, but no great urban earthquake has struck since then, and Oregon got off scot-free. Earthquakes have dropped out of the news, and most people have forgotten about them.
It is in light of such public apathy that this chapter is written. You try to organize your household, your neighborhood, and your children’s schools, but your efforts might result in your being called Chicken Little, warning that the sky is falling. If you’re serious, you must be determined and patient and have a thick skin. It won’t be easy.