Tsunami & Fire Safety
BAY CITY Jan. 15, 2010 —Mayor Shaena Peterson held a Town Hall meeting last December to urge Bay City residents to make preparations to survive a disaster. We've seen many major storms that produce landslides in the mountains and cut the Coast off from the Valley for from several days to several weeks. The December 2007 storm was such a disaster --- some of us would liken it to a major disaster --- but it pales in comparison to a major subduction quake offshore followed by a tsunami: the so-called "Big One."
When we talk about the "Big One," we tend to think that it lurks somewhere in the dim future, that it won't happen during our own lifetimes. That may well be true for some older folk, but many younger people might very well see the "Big One" during theirs. Remember that the last major subduction quake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone occurred on January 26, 1700. That's 310 years ago. Earth scientists have determined that subduction quakes in the Pacific Northwest have occurred every 300 to 500 years, and consensus has it that the next subduction quake will occur within the next 50 years. In geological time, that's tomorrow.
From the stories passed down among local tribesmen, from the geological record and from Japanese records of a great tsunami, the force of the 1700 quake was judged to be about magnitude 9.0. They don't get much bigger than that. Just look at the massive destruction in Haiti from a quake that measured a mere 7.0. Remember, there is no way to predict when a quake will occur. When it happens, it will be a complete surprise. Many will be caught off guard.
Ironically, the Native Americans inhabiting the Oregon and Washington coasts in 1700 would have survived a 9.0 quake much better than we will. Modern civilization has become dependent upon cutting-edge technology, a two-edged sword. We have the benefit of bridges over our rivers; water mains to bring our drinking water from distant wells; sewerage and wastewater treatment plants to treat human waste before returning it to the land; and satellite TV and radio. All this is powered by electricity distributed through a system of transmission towers and high-tension lines from the Valley. We have a virtually limitless variety of telephones and Blackberries to afford us instant communication. But our modern comforts come at a steep price: a technology trap. We've lost the pioneering and survival skills of our forebears.
The local inhabitants circa 1700 were entirely self-sufficient, capable of producing all their own needs. They cut poles to haul their belongs when moving to follow the game; they cut trees with stone axes to build their lodges; peeled bark to make their canoes; burned out logs to make their dugouts to hunt whales. They hunted, gathered berries and other fruits, and prepared and preserved their foods to carry them through the lean winter months. They used smoke signals and runners to communicate over long distances. Their roads were simple trails; they had no problem fording streams. Their forests were a virtual apothecary, which yielded all manner of medicinal plants and herbs.
While the people of 1700 would have experienced significant loss of life from initial injuries and post-injury infections, their overall recovery from a major quake would have been much faster. They had no technology trap to slow them down. They had all the skills they needed to survive. Their horses and pack animals needed no paved roads.
In order to understand what we must prepare for, we must understand what is likely to happen when the "Big One" strikes. We live in pleasant little enclaves up and down the Oregon Coast. Our travel to and from the Valley is over paved roads crossing the Coast Range, or along the Columbia River. Our coastal communities are connected by paved highways and bridges, many quite old and in need of repair. Few, if any, meet modern seismic standards. Bay City's waterlines are suspended from several of these old bridges.
All electrical power comes to us from the Valley. Cell phone operation requires cell towers, which in turn need electricity to function. Landline telephones depend upon wire or fiber-optic cable to carry their signals. We have become dependent upon these modern conveniences, and their loss, even for short periods, is always a great inconvenience or worse.
A magnitude 9 quake will destroy or disable all essential infrastructure in mere minutes. No bridges will remain standing. Roads will buckle and become impassable. Much of SR 6 will end up in the Wilson River. All power and telephone communication will be disrupted. Long-distance communication will be possible only via battery-powered ham radio or satellite telephone.
Many waterlines will be ruptured, especially those suspended from bridges. There will be no way to get potable fresh water from the wellhead to the reservoirs. With the bridges over the Kilchis River destroyed, there will be no way to reach the wellhead to refuel the generator. The reservoirs will have a supply of water, which will drain quickly through waterline ruptures if the breaks cannot be located and isolated in time. The only power available locally will be provided by generators. Fuel supplies will be critical because, without power, you can't pump fuel into a gas can.
Each coastal community will be isolated from its neighbors. Grocery stores will quickly become sold or looted out, with no means to replenish their stock. Bay City will be especially hard hit, because its market, a convenience store, has very limited stocks of staples. People who have access to generators will be able to maintain their supplies of frozen or refrigerated foods for only a brief period because of limited fuel supplies.
Getting down to the most basic human needs, toilets will be inoperative because of lack of flushing water and disrupted sewer lines. The treatment plant itself will be destroyed or inoperative. Other means must be found to dispose of human waste.
Destruction throughout the area will be massive. Most residences will be severely damaged or destroyed. Soils in many of Bay City's low-lying areas are fill and subject to liquefaction during an earthquake. Geological factors make Bay City's hillsides prone to landslide. Many of its vaunted view properties will find themselves downtown, especially if seasonal rains have saturated the soils.
Loss of life will be massive, and injuries will be severe to life-threatening. Only the most rudimentary facilities will be available to shelter or care for the injured. Many survivors will lose their lives from post-injury infections or other complications.
People will be trapped or entombed in downed buildings, and, initially, there will be little or no equipment available to rescue them. Early rescues will be limited to what can be done by hand. Survivors of the quake will be severely traumatized, both physically and mentally. The dead will be everywhere. Panic will set in quickly, especially when the aftershocks hit.
And that's just the quake! Within 20 minutes, maybe less, there will be a tsunami. A tsunami is really a series of advancing waves, each successively higher than its predecessor. The Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) estimates that run-up in Bay City will be about 52 feet, higher in some areas, depending upon topography. That means that everything in Goose Point and in the downtown area will be washed out. But don't count on being safe above 52 feet. A tsunami of 100 feet or more is not unheard of.
What flows in must flow out. The rapidly-ebbing tsunami will carry with it massive loads of debris --- the remains of buildings, automobiles, people --- anything in the water's path. One need only look at the pictures of Banda Aceh to see the dangers posed by debris-laden receding tsunami water.
The tsunami will wash through the sewage treatment plant and carry sludge and raw sewage deep into the city. Many survivors will have contact with sewage-laden tsunami run-up water, and it will not be long before many contract water-borne diseases ranging from dysentery to cholera and typhoid.
And that's just DAY ONE. The dead will be everywhere, carrying with them the threat of further disease as bodies decompose. Animals feeding on the dead will exacerbate the spread of disease. The few rescue personnel initially available will be overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the catastrophe and the numbers of injured needing urgent care. Many food stocks will have been washed out to the bay or contaminated by contact with tsunami water. Shelter will be at a premium. Most houses still standing will be severely damaged and unsafe for occupancy. There will be only makeshift places and few if any trained personnel to care for the injured.
Presence of human waste will become critical very early on. Many people will contract gastrointestinal infections within hours. Rotting corpses, if not burned or buried, will compound the problem of disease. And there is yet another factor. Everyone will be severely stressed during this period. Stress reduces the body's ability to ward off disease, and there will be a high instance of stress-related diseases. All water for washing or drinking will have to be chemically purified or boiled. A few chemical toilets will not alleviate public health problems of this magnitude.
When the shock wears off, there will be panic, frustration that help is not arriving, anger, looting, and, sadly, outright armed robbery for survival or for profit. Many will take whatever they wish, without regard for the needs of others. Individual survival instincts will reign supreme. Law enforcement will be virtually nonexistent. Unless survivors pool their resources and organize their own security, chaos and anarchy --- the law of the jungle --- will prevail. Riots could break out over distribution of scarce food, fuel and water supplies, or over priorities for medical treatment and evacuation.
Now for some reality therapy. The Valley, including the cities of Portland, Salem, Albany, Corvalis, Eugene and Springfield, will have sustained severe damage. Large buildings will be on the ground, and loss of life and severe injuries will number in the hundreds of thousands. Those large Valley populations, the "hottest brushfires," will be the first to get help from outside the area. It would not be unreasonable to say that it will be at least three weeks or more before any significant help finds its way west of the Coast Range. And it will be months before basic repairs to essential infrastructure can be accomplished. The survivors will have to rough it for a very long time, and more than a 72-hour emergency kit will be required for a disaster of this magnitude.
That is the scenario for which everyone must be prepared. Future articles will discuss what we, as individuals, and the City of Bay City, must do to assure an acceptable level of survival from a subduction quake and tsunami.
Don Reynolds --
City Fire Chief
Your fire department will give you information to help you to survive. The first installment, Earthquake Survival, is based on a talk by Doug Copp, Rescue Chief and Disaster Manager for American Rescue Team International, the world's most experienced rescue team. Doug has been inside 875 collapsed buildings in 60 countries and knows of what he speaks. Doug's ten tips, summarized below, could save your life.
safe zones now marked
The most recent mapping by the Department of Geology and Mineral Industries indicates a tsunami run-up of about 57 feet, but these maps were made a number of years ago. The 80-foot elevation was selected to provide an extra margin of safety for the City.
Thanks to the stimulus, DOGAMI is re-mapping coastal elevations, starting on the South Coast, using the new LIDAR process. This process should enable a far more accurate delineation of tsunami run-up areas.
The Disaster Mitigation Committee, headed by Fire Chief Don Reynolds, continues to develop plans to help mitigate the effects of “The Big One” when it finally happens. It’s a question of “when,” not “if.” It’s inevitable, and it is the goal of the Disaster Mitigation Committee to have plans and resources in place to care for our survivors until help can arrive from the Valley. Reynolds says we should be prepared to hold out for several weeks, at least.
BAY CITY OCt. 13, 2009-- On Friday, October 8, the Fire Department responded to a chimney fire in Bay City. The circumstances of this fire pointed out several lessons that everyone must be aware of. The occupants had been painting and had not reinstalled the smoke alarms after finishing the paint job.
Lesson number one: Smoke alarms don't work unless they are properly installed and have good batteries in them.
They build a fire in the fireplace and sat down in the room to keep warm.
Lesson number two: Inspect the fireplace or wood stove to be sure it has good internal integrity before starting a fire. If you're not sure, have a qualified inspector look at the unit.
The fire in the fireplace was burning down when the occupants noticed the smell of smoke and noted smoke in the upstairs portion of the house.
Lesson number three: Call 911 as soon as you are aware of a problem in the house.
All went well as far
as lesson three was concerned, and the fire department was on scene 8
minutes from the time the residents called.
These folks were lucky. Everyone should take a minute to review their own house for the lessons learned. November 1 is our return to Standard Time, and this makes it a good time for you to check your smoke alarms and make sure your house is fire safe. If you would like a fire audit of you home for your own benefit, please contact the fire station at 503-377-0233 and leave a message if no one is there. We will get back to you.
But, do not call that number if you have a fire or medical emergency. For those kinds of issues, CALL 911.
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