I was at a writing workshop on the coast when I first heard of the Cascadia Subduction Zone. That was nearly 20 years ago so the details are fuzzy, but I don’t recall being all that concerned. I understood it was real, but it didn’t feel like a threat to me personally, rather a distant danger that might someday cause someone a problem. Of course, over time, I learned more and began to plan for my own survival. Others, however, not so much. One of the more memorable phone calls of my career came from a local businessman who was absolutely livid that I’d written about the anticipated aftermath of the mega earthquake and tsunami. I’d ruined his business, he said, adding he would never buy the newspaper again. Can you imagine not warning visitors to Florida what to do in the event of a hurricane, or how to survive a twister in tornado alley?
Times have changed, thankfully, due in no small part to the numerous preparedness events hosted around the area. The next one, “Get Ready Lincoln County,” happens on Saturday, Sept. 15, at North Lincoln Fire & Rescue’s St. Clair Station in the Taft neighborhood of Lincoln City.
“Get Ready” isn’t only about surviving the looming mega earthquake and tsunami, but all natural disasters — wildland fires, winter storms, sea surges, distant tsunamis and most any other calamity you can name.
“Natural disasters have become more intense when it comes to our area,” said Jim Kusz, North Lincoln’s district captain and PIO. “But people have also come to a greater awareness of the kind of hazards and dangers we’re facing. People have changed their attitudes. They are more educated. We are seeing fires that are far more fierce and far more difficult to fight because of the location and because our populations have moved into the area between forest and urban areas. There are horrific stories of people being trapped, driving through the fires. Lincoln County is in drought conditions. A little bit of rain doesn’t really change anything. The coastal regions we live in have a lot of ladder fuels and brush because we haven’t mitigated the fire potential because it was low risk.”
Kusz moved here from Chicago in 1989. One day, walking around Portland with a friend, he recalls thinking it was similar to Chicago, but also different in a way he couldn’t quite name. Then he saw the air conditioning unit sticking out of a window, and realized that was it — there was just that one unit, where, in Chicago, there would have been many. When he mentioned it to his companion, they pointed out that air conditioners really weren’t necessary in Portland.
“Now, fast forward and we have records breaking all the time,” Kusz said. “We have had 31 days in Portland in 2018 where temperatures have been at least 90 or greater. That is a record. According to the National Weather Service, the streak began with 90 degrees on May 13, followed by 100 degrees on July 15. The previous record was 29 days in 2015. We just broke a record we broke three years ago, and it’s not over yet.”
This year’s event promises lots of information on preparedness, survival and other practical matters, like home insurance. US Forest Service reps will talk about mega fires; the Lincoln County Rope Rescue Team is set to do a demonstration on its four-story training tower and there will be tours of the Life Flight helicopter. InStove plans demonstrations of its “incredible highly efficient institutional cookstoves;” there will side-by-side sprinkler demonstrations (weather permitting), and the Oregon State Police will show how to make your car evacuation ready. Me, I’m eager to see the tsunami rescue pod. But even if you can’t get excited about learning how to save your butt, you might like the idea of freebies — including “useful emergency items,” raffles for a “Bug Out” backpack and two-person tent, and let’s not forget the hot dogs and hamburgers.
Yes, times are changing — for better and worse.
“Twenty-five years ago, it was hard to find survival gear without going to an Army/Navy Store,” Kusz said. “Now, it’s become a mini industry. Even in places like Fred Meyer you are going to find a section on survival gear. The culture had changed from people saying ‘don’t talk about it’ to something that is a global awareness of devastating disasters. This is not just going through a bad spell. I have statistics — natural disasters are increasing.”
Lori Tobias is the author of the novel “Wander” and a journalist of many years. Follow her at loritobias.com.