Rep. DeFazio Criticizes Congress’s ‘Tombstone Mentality’, Urges Action on Earthquake Preparedness and Resiliency

Washington, D.C. –(ENEWSPF)–May 19, 2015.  Today, in a hearing in the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) criticized Congress for decades of neglect when it comes to preparing for catastrophic earthquakes. The United States Geological Service (USGS) estimates that 75 million Americans live in areas of significant seismic risk across 42 states. Oregon is one of those states, and is at risk from several different types of earthquakes. 

“A catastrophic earthquake is not hypothetical.  It is a not a question of if an earthquake will happen.  It is a question of when. That’s why this Nation needs to start taking this threat seriously and begin to prepare for a major earthquake and tsunami event. Congress needs to stop operating under a tombstone mentality – only taking action after people lose their lives – and immediately begin considering serious, thoughtful, and robust actions that could literally save tens of thousands of lives, countless injuries, and billions of dollars of damage when a catastrophic earthquake hits,” said DeFazio.  

Oregon’s greatest risk is from the Cascadia Subduction Zone. The Cascadia Subduction Zone, which stretches from northern California up into British Columbia, is the mirror image of the subduction zone off the coast of Japan that caused the magnitude nine earthquake and resulting tsunami in 2011. Historically, the Cascadia subduction zone “slips” every 300 years or so causing major earthquakes. The last quake was in 1700 and evidence suggests it was a magnitude 8.7 to a 9.2.  January of this year marks the 315th anniversary of the last major Cascadia earthquake.

A Cascadia earthquake will likely be catastrophic with the potential of triggering a tsunami. The USGS estimates that over 22,000 people live in Oregon’s tsunami inundation zone and even more enter the zone daily for employment purposes. The next big Cascadia quake will likely cause massive damage.  At the request of DeFazio, Dr. Scott Ashford, Dean of the College of Engineering at Oregon State University, testified at the hearing.  Dr. Ashford indicated in his testimony that a magnitude 9.0 Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake would shut down all of U.S. Highway 101, all access routes from the Willamette Valley or Portland metro area to the coast, and only leave parts of Interstate 5 open.

DeFazio urged his colleagues to start investing in the Nation’s infrastructure – including a West Coast early warning detection system – to ensure it can withstand seismic activity, minimize potential damages and economic disruption, and provide as much warning as possible to impacted communities.  An early warning system could provide metro centers such as Portland and Seattle with three to five minutes of warning, providing critical time for hospitals, schools, manufacturers, and transportation and energy system operators, and first responders.   

To watch DeFazio’s opening statement and questions, click here:

To read DeFazio’s full written statement, click here:


Last month, the Committee passed H.R. 1471, the FEMA Disaster Assistance Reform Act of 2015. That bill includes a provision that DeFazio sponsored to encourage states to use their hazard mitigation funding in support of building a capability for an earthquake early warning system. FEMA needs to do its part to make sure states are aware that mitigation funds may be used for this purpose.

Luckily, Oregonians takes the earthquake hazard seriously. The State developed the Oregon Resilience Plan, which witness Dr. Scott Ashford from Oregon State University worked on and discussed in today’s hearing. The Oregon Resilience Plan was a comprehensive look at the state’s risk from a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami. This included examining the State’s infrastructure and making recommendations to make Oregon more resilient when the next big one strikes. Much more work is needed in Oregon but other States should be encouraged to follow Oregon’s lead and examine the risk, the potential damage and develop and implement plans to address the issue.

Another way to save lives, reduce injuries, and minimize infrastructure damage is to invest in an earthquake early warning system. An early warning system can send alerts to trigger automatic shutdowns of trains, manufacturing lines, close bridges, and evacuate students from unsafe schools. It can help reduce the long-term economic losses that are often excluded from damage estimates. An earthquake early warning system worked during the 2011 Japan earthquake and it can work here.