Portland Lagging Behind Other West Coast Cities in Implementing Earthquake Detection System, New Report Says

The Trump administration is fast-tracking earthquake detection system implementation on the West Coast. But the Pacific Northwest is holding up the process.

Portland Outdoor Store (Sam Gehrke)

It's been well-reported that an any given moment a massive Cascadian subduction zone earthquake—aka The Big One—could decimate the West Coast.

In preparation, the Trump administration is accelerating implementation of earthquake early warning detection systems, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The fast-tracked implementation order came on Oct. 5 from U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and encourages national parks and Bureaus of Land Management in major cities between Anchorage, Alaska and San Diego, Calif., to integrate earthquake detection on federal land with local monitoring efforts.

Technology like ShakeAlert, which detects tremors and sends alerts to cell phones and other devices, has been life-saving in recent years in Japan and Mexico—prompting San Francisco and Los Angeles' pushes to finish installing early warning systems.

In the Pacific Northwest, however, disaster preparedness efforts are lagging behind.

"Only about half of the 1,675 sensors needed to complete the [West Coast] alert network have been completed," the WSJ article reads, "with the biggest shortfall in Pacific Northwest cities like Portland and Seattle, U.S. Geological Survey officials say."

A spokesperson for USGS could not immediately be reached for comment on the reason for Portland's slow rollout of a detection system. But, the WSJ reports, permitting delays could be partially to blame.

Under Zinke's new order, directors of federal land management agencies in respective cities have 30 days to "identify and help remove regulatory impediments to putting in the alert sensors."

There is still no definitive timeline for a completed West Coast early earthquake detection system, but Oregon would be smart to catch up to its neighbors.

In January, a Secretary of State audit warned that Oregon's disaster preparedness plans do not meet national standards, in part because of a lack of funding for the state's Office of Emergency Management.

A spokesperson for OEM tells WW that the agency is not involved with the federal early earthquake warning project.

Meanwhile, Portland City Hall today required that unreinforced masonry buildings—the ones most likely to crumble in a quake—must be labeled as unsafe. Even that incremental step received blowback from business owners and community groups.

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