Don’t be Toast: Practical Steps to Prepare for the Big One

If you’ve read the recent New Yorker article about the predicted Cascadia earthquake and tsunami, you probably saw the memorable quote from a FEMA official about the aftermath:  “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.”  Dave Dillon’s article in this issue clarifies that preparing for such a disaster will increase our likelihood of surviving it.  Here are some specific steps you can take to increase your preparedness.

The Emergency Volunteer Corps of Nehalem Bay will host a workshop on what local individuals and families should pack in their emergency “Go Bags” Monday, Sep. 28, from noon to 2 p.m. at the fire station in Bayside Gardens. Larry Wiedenhoft and Tim Anderson will lead the class, which will cover: What are the most important things to have in a Go Bag? How long should someone plan to be away from home? Where is the best place to store a Go Bag? Should Go Bags be taken to assembly sites or shelter? What is the difference between “shelter-in-place” supplies and those needed in a Go Bag Wiedenhoft and Anderson invite people who already have Go Bags to come to the class and learn what’s new.

By Dr. Margaret Steele, Emergency Volunteer Corps, Medical Reserves

1.  Realize that there are actually two disasters, the earthquake and the tsunami.  If you live, work, shop or play in the tsunami zone, there’s only one thing to know – get up and out of the way of the onrushing water.
2. Learn whether or not you’re in the tsunami zone (  You can enter your address on this site and find out if you’re in a tsunami inundation zone.  If you are, learn and practice your evacuation route.  Make a small, easy to carry go bag with the absolute necessities.  Be sure you can actually carry it (a backpack may be best, or maybe a small wheeled suitcase.)  Keep the go bag out where you can find it instantly even in the dark.  Keep a pair of sturdy shoes with socks by your bed, along with a flashlight.  You will have only a very few minutes to get out and UP away from the oncoming wave.
For everything else you need, consider storing your supplies with a friend     who lives outside the inundation zone, but within walking distance for you.
3. If you are NOT in the inundation zone, and if your home is stable enough to stay in, DO NOT evacuate!  Help your neighbors if you can.  Prepare yourself to shelter in place.  Things to consider:
• The electrical grid will fail.   Have several portable light sources (flashlights, lanterns) as well as a generator, if possible.   Gasoline will be in short supply, though, so the generator won’t be useful indefinitely.
• Glass will break. Be prepared with tarps and plywood to cover your broken windows.
• If you have camping equipment (tents, sleeping bags, camp stove) keep it in a place you can get to if your home is badly damaged.
• Anything unsecured in your home will move and fall.  Secure your bookshelves, strap your water heater, consider cupboard locks.
• Your propane/gas lines will likely be damaged.  Have a tool to turn off your gas at the street or propane tank, and know how to use it.
• If your house isn’t bolted to the foundation, have that done if you can.  (Cost $2000-4000)
• Bridges and roads will fail.  Don’t expect to drive anywhere.  Think about all the highway bridges on 101, the only Oregon Coast North-South artery.  Don’t expect to get to a hospital or pharmacy in Tillamook, Seaside or Portland.
• Learn First Aid!  Store medical supplies in a place in your home least likely to be turned to rubble.  Include as large a stockpile of your prescription medications as you can.  Rotate these meds regularly.  Be sure to have an extra pair of glasses (or two) if you wear them.
• After earthquakes, fires are very common.  Keep a fire extinguisher in an accessible place, and know how to use it.
• Water and sewer pipes will be damaged in the earthquake.  Store water (1 gallon per day per person) accessibly.  Learn how to deal with human waste. (link to EVC material online)
Recovery from a Cascadia earthquake and tsunami will be painfully slow.  On the coast, we can expect at least 3-6 months without electricity, 1-3 years without water or sewer systems, and 3 or more years without hospitals.  Very few of us will be prepared to be self-sufficient for that long.  There will clearly be a need to evacuate, and we hope that within a month of the event there will be Federal help available to do so.  But the I-5 corridor itself, with its much larger population, will most likely receive help before the more sparsely populated coast.  So be prepared to be self-sufficient with shelter, water, food, sewage management, and medical supplies (including needed medications) for at least 30 days.
We in the Nehalem Bay area are fortunate to live in one of the most prepared communities in Oregon.  The Emergency Volunteer Corps of Nehalem Bay has been working together since 2008 to educate the community, train, and plan for this nearly unimaginable disaster.  Please join us!  (

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