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7.5.3: Oregon

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    The Oregon Office of Emergency Management (OEM), a division of the Oregon State Police, is the state counterpart to FEMA. OEM assists local governments in planning and education, including the identification of hazards and technical advice. In addition to coordinating the state tsunami and earthquake programs, OEM manages disaster-recovery activities including public assistance and hazard mitigation grants. Grants were awarded for the retrofit of schools after the 1993 Scotts Mills Earthquake. In 1972, the Oregon Emergency Response System was established by the governor, the first of its kind in the United States. It is managed by OEM as the primary point of contact for state notification of an emergency or disaster. Operations assigned to OEM include the statewide 9-1-1 emergency number, search and rescue, and a state emergency coordination center. This center is activated during a disaster to provide information, direction, and coordination during the disaster, and to provide liaison with the FEMA regional office in Bothell, Washington.


    The governing legislation for OEM is ORS 401, which establishes rules for coordination with local government. Each county in Oregon is required to have an emergency operations plan, an emergency operations center, and an emergency program manager. Some counties also have a citizens’ emergency management council, involving the community. Although not required, cities may also have an emergency management program, and three in Oregon do so. There is also an earthquake coordinator for Portland Metro, which includes Portland and satellite cities making up the Portland metropolitan area. The Emergency Coordination Center (ECC) is located at OEM headquarters in Salem and consists of twenty-two state agencies. When a disaster happens, the ECC is the primary contact with the governor and legislature as well as local jurisdictions.


    In April 2003, OEM conducted a statewide training exercise called Quakex-2003, a simulated earthquake and tsunami on the Cascadia Subduction Zone. The exercise involved more than one hundred federal, state, county, city, volunteer, and private industry organizations to enable them to test their individual emergency response plans. Those agencies participating were able to test the effectiveness of interagency coordination, cooperation, and communication during a large-scale simulated disaster. The destruction visited on each community was built into the scenario based on realistic assumptions of risk, to see how each agency would respond. Each jurisdiction tested an emergency operations plan, which outlined the roles and responsibilities of agencies and individuals during the emergency.


    There were two distinct phases of Quakex-2003. The first phase (response) simulated the first forty-eight hours of the disaster. During this time, public utilities had to respond to repair outages, and the local government responded to medical emergencies and threatening situations such as fire, dam failure, building collapses with people inside, flooding, tsunamis, hazardous waste spills, and coastal subsidence. The government began collecting information about the extent of the disaster, dispatching assistance as needed.


    The second phase was a recovery phase one week after the disaster, with an emphasis on collecting initial damage assessments from local and state agencies. In a real disaster situation, this assessment would be used to advise the governor about declaring a state disaster area and to provide factual backup for a request to the president to declare a national disaster area, thereby bringing in federal assistance. The assumption was made that Oregon would receive a presidential major disaster declaration, allowing federal and state agencies to work together, processing disaster assistance applications from individuals as well as businesses and local government. After the exercise, there was an after-action report to determine whether the objectives had been met.


    OEM responds to a disaster if the city or county fails to act responsibly, if the disaster involves two or more counties, or if a major disaster is imminent or strikes a large area in the state. For Quakex-2003, it was obvious that a disaster would be declared, so everybody participated. The priorities are to save lives and protect public health and safety, provide basic life-support needs, and to protect emergency-response equipment, in that order. Of lower priority is the protection of public and private buildings. In a nutshell: lives first, buildings later.


    Several presidential disaster declarations were issued for Oregon during the 1990s: three floods (1990, 1995, 1996), one windstorm (1995), the El Niño and drought of 1994 (which included a salmon-related economic disaster), and the two earthquakes in 1993. In the summer of 2015, disaster declarations have been issued against wildfires during the ongoing drought. Thus OEM is getting plenty of practice in real emergencies, preparing it for a future earthquake much larger than the two that occurred in 1993, including planning for an earthquake on the Cascadia Subduction Zone.


    Oregon requires each county to have an emergency management system to respond to a declaration of a state of emergency. Although all would agree that this is an important thing to have, it represents, at least in part, an unfunded mandate. It is an expression of the tendency of legislatures to pass worthy legislation (authorization) without providing the money to carry it out at the local level (appropriation). In 1997, a bill was introduced in Salem to allocate money to create a disaster reserve trust fund, to be administered by OEM, not to exceed $30 million. Money would also be allocated to create and run the emergency management programs of the state and eligible jurisdictions to provide, among other things, statewide uniformity in an operation that requires close coordination for it to work in an emergency. Finally, money would be used as grants, to be awarded competitively to local jurisdictions or nonprofit organizations to implement hazard mitigation projects. Funds for this bill would come from the state lottery, from a tax on insurers against hazards including earthquakes, and from the general fund. With the financial restrictions facing the state legislature in 1997, this bill did not pass, and with the financial crises faced by the 2001 and 2003 legislatures, it is difficult to see how the state will have the resources to deal with the next disaster. It is an idea for the future.


    OEM also provides administrative support for the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission (OSSPAC), established by Governor Neil Goldschmidt by executive order in 1990 after the Loma Prieta Earthquake, then confirmed by Senate Bill 96 in 1991. OSSPAC promotes earthquake awareness and preparedness through education, research, and legislation. OSSPAC includes five representatives from the state government, one from local government, six from the public, and six from affected industries and stakeholders. OSSPAC supported several earthquake-related bills and six joint resolutions during the 2001 legislative session. During that session, the legislature passed three earthquake bills and two earthquake joint resolutions. One bill requires state and local agencies and other employers with two hundred fifty or more full-time employees to conduct earthquake drills. The other two bills require seismic safety surveys of schools, hospitals, and fire and police stations. The joint resolutions provide funds for the planning and implementation of seismic rehabilitation of public education and emergency service buildings. However, the legislature provided no funds for the surveys or rehabilitation but, instead, sent the joint resolutions as ballot measures to Oregon voters. These ballot measures passed in 2002, authorizing the state to issue general obligation bonds for seismic rehabilitation of public education and emergency service buildings. However, as of September 2003, no funds have been authorized for either the surveys or retrofits, except for a bond issue passed for Portland Public Schools. The Legislature authorized a resilience survey to be supervised by OSSPAC, which presented a grim future when Oregon is struck with the next subduction-zone earthquake. The survey presented a way forward if the State began a major retrofit of unsafe buildings and obsolete bridges, allowing ten years or more to strengthen the State against a major earthquake. A lot could be done in ten years. However, the Legislature failed to appropriate money to begin the project, and also did not pass a major transportation bill that would have addressed the problem of obsolete bridges, a problem the OSSPAC survey had highlighted.


    The Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) has undergone a dramatic shift in its mission in the past ten years. In earlier years, like the California Geological Survey, it focused on natural resources and the regulation of their extraction, including sand and gravel, groundwater, minerals, and fuels. Geologic hazards were also considered to some extent in reports issued by the agency.


    With the recognition of an earthquake hazard in the late 1980s, the legislature in 1989 passed Senate Bill 955, which directed DOGAMI to improve the state’s understanding of earthquakes and other geologic hazards and to use this knowledge to reduce the loss of life and property due to these hazards. DOGAMI’s responsibilities are established by several statutes, starting with ORS 516 with administrative rules, in which the agency is the state repository of information about geologic hazards, including earthquakes. DOGAMI conducts research programs in coordination with the federal government, other state agencies, local government, and universities, usually with federal grants rather than state funding. It is the lead agency in coordinating the issuance of permits for facilities for metal mining and chemical leach mining. It also archives all site-specific seismic reports for critical and essential facilities in Oregon. However, its funds are limited.


    DOGAMI has produced earthquake hazard maps of the Portland, Salem, and Eugene metropolitan areas, in which these areas are divided into zones of increasing earthquake hazard based on the ground shaking, liquefaction, and potential for landslides. Plans are underway to construct similar maps for other cities. One use of these maps is to superimpose a building inventory on the earthquake zones, as the State of California and the Portland Bureau of Buildings have done. This highlights the unreinforced masonry buildings that lie in the highest earthquake hazard zone and assists in establishing retrofit priorities. These maps are suitable for the application of the Uniform Building Code to regulate construction on ground subjected to these earthquake hazards.


    Senate Bill 379, passed by the Oregon legislature in 1995 and implemented as ORS 455.446 and 455.447, restricts the construction of critical facilities and special-occupancy structures in tsunami flooding zones. In response, George Priest of DOGAMI, in cooperation with scientists outside the agency, constructed tsunami runup maps for the entire Oregon coast. These maps take into consideration the range of sizes of the next earthquake on the Cascadia Subduction Zone as well as a detailed understanding of the configuration of the seafloor, which focuses tsunami waves as they approach the coast. In addition, DOGAMI has done a detailed tsunami study of the Siletz Bay area of Lincoln City and is engaged in detailed studies at Newport and Seaside. A tsunami inundation map of Newport, prepared by DOGAMI, NOAA, and the Oregon Graduate Institute of Science and Technology, is shown as Fig. 9-15a.


    Other duties of the agency include serving as the lead technical agency in the Oregon Emergency Response Plan, the installation of strong-motion accelerographs in new buildings, the review of plans for dams and power plants, and participation in the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission. OSSPAC coordinated an earthquake resilience plan for Oregon, as charged by the legislature.


    Assignment of responsibilities to DOGAMI has not always been accompanied by sufficient state funds to do the job. The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program, through its focus on the Puget Sound-Portland metropolitan area, provided grants for research in earthquake hazards to DOGAMI, and this was supplemented by individual grants to scientists within DOGAMI and in universities. FEMA and NOAA have also been sources of money. Federal funds made it possible to hire an earthquake geologist, Ian Madin, who served as a highly visible point man for informing the public about earthquake hazards in Oregon. Madin is now DOGAMI Chief Scientist. More recently, the state has allocated funds to DOGAMI to carry out its earthquake-related mission, although, as stated above in another context, appropriation still lags behind authorization.

    This page titled 7.5.3: Oregon is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Robert S. Yeats (Open Oregon State) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

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