Planning for the big one

Althea Rizzo wants you to know the dead will not rise up to begin feasting on the living after a large earthquake strikes the Pacific Northwest.

"We won't have zombies walking the streets," she promised, her tongue held firmly in cheek.

"But it will be a very bad day," she added in all seriousness of the anticipated power outages, highway blockages and communication disruptions. "And people should know what to expect and be prepared for it."

Rizzo knows of what she speaks when it comes to earthquake preparedness. She is the Geologic Hazards Program coordinator for the Oregon Office of Emergency Management.

During three free public sessions Nov. 13-14, Rizzo will discuss what people can do to prepare for a major earthquake. The presentations are sponsored by the Jackson County Sheriff's Department.

They will be from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Nov. 13, and 1 to 3:30 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. Nov. 14 in the Smullin Center on the Rogue Regional Medical Center Campus, 2825 E. Barnett Road, Medford. The final session will be presented in both English and Spanish.

No one knows when a big earthquake will strike the region. But scientists do know that the Cascadia Subduction Zone, also known as the Cascadia fault, which stretches from Vancouver Island to Northern California, has a geological reputation for creating big earthquakes.

Of particular concern are quakes of magnitude 9.0 or larger. The last known "megathrust" earthquake in the Cascadia fault was Jan. 26, 1700. And geological data indicates the fault remains active.

"Over the last 10,000 years, we have had many like the one that occurred in 1700," Rizzo said.

With the network of towns, roads and bridges that have spread across the Northwest since then, an earthquake that large likely would cause widespread destruction now, she noted.

"But it will not be the same everywhere," she said.

For instance, some structures may be leveled while others may have no observable damage, yet their structural integrity may be compromised, she said.

However, people can prepare by knowing what to expect and how to protect themselves and their families.

"They can make the choice ahead of time whether to be a survivor or a victim," she said. "You don't have a choice after the event.

"You don't want to be the person on CNN complaining the government isn't doing enough for you," she added.

Surviving can be as simple as setting aside water and non-perishable food in a protected area, she said.

"It doesn't have to be a big store at first — you can start with one can of tuna," she said.

However, the first step to prepare for an emergency is to talk to your family, she said.

"Make sure everyone knows what the plan is," she said. "Talk to your family about what to do if there is an earthquake, a fire or any emergency."

With a large earthquake, Oregonians can expect to do without many of the things to which they have grown accustomed, she said.

"Some areas would be without power for months," she said, noting sewer and water systems also likely would fail.

"But there are basic steps you can take now," she added. "You can prepare for an emergency and reduce the impact on your life."

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or email him at

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