Threat of deadly Pacific Northwest ‘Big One’ has crisis planners worried, preparing


Seismologists say a full rupture of an offshore fault running from Northern California to British Columbia and ensuing tsunami could come in our lifetimes, and emergency management officials are busy preparing for the worst.

Federal, state and military officials have been drafting response plans for the “Big One” along the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

The plans reflect deep anxiety about the potential gravity of the disaster: more than 14,000 people dead in the worst-case scenarios, 30,000 injured, thousands left homeless and the region’s economy setback for years, if not decades.

A magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of Japan in 2011 gave greater clarity to what the Pacific Northwest needs to do to improve its readiness for a similar catastrophe.

Planners envision a deployment of civilian and military personnel and equipment that would eclipse the response to any natural disaster that has occurred thus far in the U.S.

That includes waves of cargo planes, helicopters and ships, as well as tens of thousands of soldiers, emergency officials, mortuary teams, police officers, firefighters, engineers, medical personnel and other specialists.

“The response will be orders of magnitude larger than Hurricane Katrina or Super Storm Sandy,” said Lt. Col. Clayton Braun of the Washington State Army National Guard, referring to two of the best-known natural disasters in recent U.S. history.

Since 2013, Braun has led a team at work on putting together a military response plan for Washington state.

Worst-case scenarios show that more than 1,000 bridges in Oregon and Washington state could either collapse or be rendered unusable.

Seattle, Portland and other urban areas could suffer considerable damage, such as the collapse of structures built before codes were updated to take into account a mega-quake.