Chicken Little Was a Silly Optimist

Today’s post is by Steve Grooms

Something terrible is going to happen in the Great Northwest. The approaching danger has a pretty name: “Cascadia.” Cascadia refers to an earthquake that will devastate 700 miles of Pacific coastline from California to British Columbia. That quake will be followed by a massively lethal tsunami.

Here is a little Cascadia Q and A:

How sure can we be that a bad quake will hit here?

Scientists are absolutely sure of this prediction. Quakes registering 9.0 happen in this region about every 250 years. That pattern has persisted as far back in time as geology lets us see. The last big quake struck in the early 1700s, shortly before Europeans arrived. That means no quake has occurred while European settlers have been here, so people in this region have no memory of what a bad quake is like. After the next quake and tsunami, scientists say, the northwest coast will be “unrecognizable.”

When might this happen?

Scientists still cannot predict the timing of quakes with any specificity. They agree that the next quake is seriously overdue. One authority calculates there is a 40 percent chance that Cascadia will hit in the next 50 years. As I consider those odds I hear the gritty voice of Clint Eastwood asking, “Do ya feel lucky, punk?” “Nooooo, Clint! Nooooo, I don’t feel lucky at all!”

How bad will it be?

Seismologists expect a big quake, with Richter ratings close to 9.0. Cascadia will probably be a twin to the quake and tsunami that obliterated coastal areas of eastern Japan in 2011. That disaster tsunami killed about 16,000 people. FEMA planners anticipate at least 13,000 deaths as a result of Cascadia.  When it happens, Cascadia will immediately become the worst natural disaster in the history of this country.

How prepared is Oregon?

Experts give Oregon a grade of F-plus. For example, of Portland’s eleven bridges, only two were built with quake-proof engineering. Because of publicity about the coming disaster, there is some hope that local government will begin addressing the region’s vulnerabilities. But the culture of this region is skeptical about government and collective action. Some leaders are campaigning hard for better preparation. So far, they have lost every battle to spend money now to save lives in the future.

The real issue isn’t what will happen to me in a Cascadia disaster. I’m an old guy with serious health issues. I won’t be living long in Oregon or anywhere else on this planet. It would be silly for me to panic about something I can’t prevent and which probably will not occur while I am here. And yet I believe everyone is responsible for planning sensibly for future crises, even those that seem unlikely to happen soon. My greatest concern is for my daughter’s family and for the region as a whole. My daughter’s home in southeast Portland is old. I doubt it can withstand the shaking of a quake, although it lies as bit beyond the reach of the expected tsunami.



My apartment sits near the top of a small mountain south and east of Portland. The soil under these buildings is solid. The elevation puts us safely above any possible tsunami. These apartment buildings were constructed in 2000. They had to conform to building codes reflecting a modern awareness of the threat of quakes.

If I survive the quake, my problems will just be beginning. Our electricity goes out when the wind blows. Quake survivors will have no power or telephone service for weeks after the quake. There will probably be no drinking water or (ugh!) functioning toilets. All banks and financial systems will be shattered. The local transportation system, already fragile and inadequate, will be in chaos. Highways will buckle, bridges will collapse and the tsunami will flood much of the coastal area with debris and corpses. Grocery stores and pharmacies will be looted within hours of the quake, with no chance for re-supply. Emergency vehicles will not be able to move on streets and highways. Any relief will have to come by helicopter. Most disaster relief will be focused on the areas hit most severely. Survivors will have to make do, somehow, for a period of two to six weeks.

Questions abound. For example, should I deplete my retirement fund to purchase six weeks worth of water? Where would I keep it? A sizable swimming pool lies a dozen steps from my apartment. Will it survive the shaking? Could residents drink that water? Who will establish and enforce order so neighbors don’t plunder each other’s goods?

I am more puzzled than panicked. Nothing in my lifetime has prepared me to respond to a threat like Cascadia. The event, when it comes, will be almost unimaginably tragic. And yet, although it is “overdue,” it might not come for several decades. My dilemma is figuring out how a thinking person can plan effectively for such an event, preparing for extreme chaos while keeping things in perspective. Surely there is a sensible middle ground position somewhere between irresponsible oblivion and total panic.

When I was a Minnesotan I knew it was always possible that a tornado could chew my home to pieces, but the odds against it were reassuring. Now, as I try to prepare for what is often called “the big one,” Minnesota winters suddenly don’t look as threatening as they once did!

How should Steve respond to the threat of Cascadia?

61 thoughts on “Chicken Little Was a Silly Optimist”

  1. Good morning. I think it would be good if Steve and all of us would get ready to deal with anticipated emergencies. It is easier to say that we should prepare for emergencies the it is to actually make these preparation. At least, Steve, you are thinking about what you should do. The next step would be to do some more research on options for making preparations and then pick the preparations that seem to fit your situation. This my advice,Steve, for what it is worth. It isn’t worth very much because I should also be better prepared for emergencies and I’m not.


  2. A good friend’s husband found a deal several years ago on army MREs and bought enough to last several weeks as a “just in case” measure. Not sure what he is expecting since we live in MN, but I shan’t ponder that too much as it leads down a rabbit hole that also has caches of a few other things he has hoarded. These so-called meals have a shelf life that seems to stretch into infinity. They take up space in the basement, but there they sit. Friend has family on the west coast – maybe if Cascadia hits before the apocalypse descends on MN, she can send them out west for you and her family. In the meantime, make a nuisance of yourself with your elected officials.


    1. Thanks, Anna. If Cascadia does hit, I’d be happy to eat a MRE (although I think they are generally considered “never ready to eat” if you have taste). I hope your friend has a chopper or drone, as there won’t be any mail moving up this mountain for at least a month.


      1. Amazon will deliver by drone. They might be a little slow to fulfill orders, though, if there is a sudden demand. I think Jim is right – it might be best to own your own drone. You also need to have a bank account and a credit card issued by a non-local bank, so your money will still be available to pay for your orders.


      2. Your survival instinct must be lot stronger than mine, Steve. I can’t imagine wanting to eat inedible food to survive in such misery. I think I’d go some medication that an overdose of would put me out my misery forever. Washed down with a good glass of wine, of course.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    Steve, what an interesting blog post. Thanks. Of course, it some (Western) local color/reality that we just don’t hear about in this locale. Is this something you hear about a lot there?

    I am notoriously lax about such things. The most I do is save water in plastic jugs–someone with my money-saving training would never waste money on plastic jugs. So that is what I would suggest, along with some canned food and a can opener.


    1. Thanks, Jacque. My response to your question is “yes and no.” When the New Yorker magazine article “The Big One” was published last year, there was a sharp increase in awareness of the issue here. Oregon Public Broadcasting jumped on the issue and began airing a very thoughtful documentary on the issue. (It is an hour long. I’ve watched it three times.) So the media are beginning to chat. Which is good. But while I “hear about” the issue, there seems to be virtually no willingness to actually take action.

      Here’s an example. One town expected to be obliterated by the tsunami is a lovely tourist town called Seaside. They have a terribly vulnerable public school. State regulations are forcing them to shut down that school and replace it with something less cheesy. And they will. But they are planning to build the replacement school right on the location where the old one sits, and it will be inundated by a tsunami if the next quake isn’t small. Why? It is considered too expensive to move the school. An outdated map suggests to city leaders that a tsunami might not overwhelm this location. We know that was based on poor science now, but so far politicians have no will to spend money to build the school in a safe place.


      1. Not that I’m sure I WANT to watch it but can you send a link to the Oregon Public Broadcasting documentary?
        I’m with you, HVS, I wouldn’t be worried about myself but would worry about the younger generation.
        #1Son is considering moving back here from LA with DIL and beloved grandson (YAY!). He said that global warming was making it too hot down there (and earthquakes are certainly a threat). He said they knew they wanted to go north and considered the northwest but the threat you describe convinced them not to go there.
        I have said that I just want the world to last until my grandchild is gone but then HE may have grandchildren and I wouldn’t want him/them to suffer, etc. etc.


      2. An outdated map…that makes me wonder if sea level rise is being factored into the predictions of tsunami impact. This being Oregon instead of Florida, I would hope so.

        One thing I’d do is stash some water purification supplies. You can, apparently, use chlorine bleach, a few drops per gallon, but tablets are easier to carry if you have to bug out. An extra month’s worth of any prescription medication is also good to have available, if your insurance will allow it.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. So far, it seems my insurance won’t allow it. I had a go-around with them on that yesterday. I am looking at a water purifying pump for $70.

          The outdated map is wrong because it was prepared before seismologists had a good grip on the basic science of the Cascadia subduction zone. Full awareness of the issue only recently became public knowledge.


  4. When DIL was describing the earthquake kit that they have, she mentioned that they will need to get another bicycle. #1Son has his old one from his youth in MN but she doesn’t have one. She points out that if all the roads go, the only way to get out of the city will be by bike.
    Yikes, this is scary talk.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks Lisa. Here is the link: ttp://

    It is well done.

    One scientists has suggested that after the devastation, Portland will “never” be rebuilt as it is now. Gee, I don’t like that word NEVER. That’s a long time. There are areas of Japan that have been abandoned since its terrible quake and tsunami, but that was just four years ago. Still, I wonder what Portland and other vulnerable areas will be like years after the event. And I wonder what the devastation will mean for people employed here, people like my daughter and her family.


  6. Husband’s brother and sister in law live in Portland in the area that i belive is called Raleigh Heights. It seems kind of high up. I think Steve should phone my husband’s brother. I will tell him you and your family are relatives of mine who need to be rescued.


    1. Thanks, Renee. Actually, your relatives live in an area that one expert says “will be toast” after Cascadia. But his opinion has been criticized, and the place name “Raleigh Hills” is reassuring because high ground will be far safer than low ground. My sense is that the shaking will not be as dangerous as the tsunami. (But, hell, I’m from Minnesota. What do I know?)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh dear! Well, brother in law and his wife are mountain climbers, so maybe they can scale down from the Hills and stay with you. He is a doctor and was an Eagle Scout, and she is a registered nurse. I bet they are pretty resouceful in a crisis. (I don’t know how useful an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist will be, though).


  7. Maybe one of these mega disasters will be the Black Swan that completely disrupts the financial markets and sends the economy into a tailspin. I’m glad the worst we Minnesotans have to worry about is the Yellowstone Caldera blowing its top someday and raining ash down upon us. Our luck, the wind will be from the WSW at 50 mph that day.

    I have no great advice for Steve on how to respond. The Boy Scout motto is good but vague: Be Prepared. Prepared for what exactly? Hard to know without benefit of hindsight. Maybe studying how people survived past disasters like the SF earthquake of 1906(?) or the Galveston Hurricane or the SE Asian tsunami several years ago would be instructive.

    Chris in Owatonna


    1. It still terrified me, Clyde, to contemplate how close the planet came to nuclear obliteration in the Cuban Missile Crisis. At the time I had a Midwesterner’s blind faith that adults were in charge of the world and would do the sensible thing. Now that we have more knowledge, it seems that the Soviet military authorities gave the green light for launching a smaller nuclear device. As I remember the story, one Russian sub commander had the courage and decency to refuse that launch. His act might have “saved the world.” A think Frontline did a documentary on him. No, the show was “Secrets of the Dead.” And let’s give credit where it is due. The man who saved the world (and us) was Vasili Arkhipov. Hey, Vasili, thanks buddy!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Seattle is built heavily on rubble. They tore down a hill there to fill in the bay here. etc. The soil to begin with is all wrong not counting the human activities. Supposedly this event will level much of Seattle,, all of the downtown.


    1. The soil under Portland is variable. Most states get oil and gas from refineries spread over an area. Oregon gets all its energy from a single tank farm that sits on fill dumped near the Willamette River in Portland. That soil has been described as “the worst soil in Portland” for a tank farm. The quake will liquefy that soil, the tanks will rupture and spill into the river and the whole state will be dropped into chaos.


  9. I think we should encourage everyone to invest heavily in ND. After Cascadia, ND will become a haven and a western economic outpost. I wonder how weather patterns could change out here as a result of Cascadia?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I was going to suggest the water purification stuff that CG mentioned. Boy, beyond that I just don’t know…. lots of tuna and spam (if you can’t stand the inedible food)? Could you convince fellow apartment dwellers to do a community garden on the roof? perhaps with chickens?


    1. I have tried to open a discussion of Cascadia preparedness with the folks living in this community. So far I haven’t been encouraged by the response. I do credit the management for allowing me to use the forum they created to form community. They didn’t build that to favor such negative discussions, but they’ve let me talk about this topic.

      It would probably be good for me to give up eating for a month!


  11. You have to give “them” – whomever they are – credit for coming up with a great name. Cascadia has to be the most evocative name for a natural disaster ever; it makes it sound almost romantic.


  12. Signs of the end times: Barnes & Noble has a book on display called “Easy Steps to Writing Poetry.” Bought briefs and pretzels at Target. Briefs cam in a resealable plastic bag; pretzels did not.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Dear heaven, people!

    I’m sitting in a coffee shop waiting for the s&h’s train from the U and the table next to me has a guy sitting at it meeting a string of nice young people meeting him to talk about retirement investments.

    Reading this thread while listening to all that future driven talk about miney most of them don’t even have yet is yet another one of those scenes that makes me wonder who is directing this art film.

    Liked by 5 people

  14. I thank all you Baboons for indulging me with this spooky story. This stuff isn’t fun to talk about, is it? In my life I have seen bad outcomes when someone was unable to deal with ominous decisions. Part of me also wanted to test this blog site to see if we could constructively engage with an issue that is inherently negative. You were great at picking up on the delicate line I meant to observe between clueless denial and self indulgent panic. I’m challenged to see if there is a proportionate, reasonable response to a disaster that seems sure to be disproportionate and extreme. You guys were good. Now let’s go back to talking about waltzing with bears or hidden gems in the state fair.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Reading this I am also reminded of the conversation I had on the phone many years ago with my mother shortly after the made-for-tv movie “The Day After” aired.

    For those who don’t recall, it was a fictional piece about life after the bomb dropped. I believe it took place in Lawrence, KS-go figure.

    My mother’s comment on this truly disturbing show? “Seriously? All those people were rushing the store for toilet paper? They don’t keep extra toilet paper in the house?”

    I come from unflappable stock. I am your girl in an emergency. Just make sure there is a place to sit down and smelling salts when it’s all over.

    Liked by 4 people

  16. When The Wind Blows a Branch Will Fall:

    The best made plans of mice and men pale when even the most routine drive to the local town is lined with old trees. Branches have survived decades of storms and must fall on my car, a car, a pedestrian, a biker some time soon.
    A political lobby group must be formed to press Central Government to legislate for a national removal of trees from all roadsides. Decades later a study of broken branches has found …”When The Wind Blows …”



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