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When we look at any development project or even a major rehabilitation, we often look at how transit oriented a project may be, or how sustainable the project should be, but how often do we look at how survivable a building will be? The thought of making a building survivable may scare some people, and developers and bean counters will start adding up the cost, but the question is, should we be taking survive-ability into account when looking at projects?
Lets take a look at the Portland, Oregon region. How many buildings in Portland are going to survive the next time the Cascadia subduction zone has a major earthquake? How many people will die because the buildings they live and work in are not designed to handle the stresses of a major earthquake?
Those of us who grew up in Southern California probably don't even bat an eye with the thought of an earthquake. However, the earthquake in Japan last year should be a wake up call. The country of Japan has prepared for years for major earthquakes and tsunami's yet still was not prepared for the devastation caused by twin disasters last year. In fact most experts thought that type of earthquake could not happen in that part of Japan but they were proven wrong.
Of course what are the chances of a major earthquake hitting the Portland area or any area for that matter. The Portland area has been hit by subduction zone earthquakes on a regular basis for thousands of years, we are talking earthquakes of 9+ of the Richter scale. The average between earthquakes is around 250 years although there has been breaks of 500 years between earthquakes but the last one was about 10,000 years ago. When did the last earthquake like this hit the area? In a few days we will pass 312 years since the last major subduction zone earthquake hit.
But lets not look at just the Portland region, any area that is a geological or meteorological hazard site needs to look at survive-ability when it comes to construction zones. Of course let us not forget that one of the worse earthquakes in recorded US history did not occur in the western U.S. but instead in the mid-west and our most recent earthquake hit the east coast.
But other areas of the country are prone to natural disasters on a regular basis and how prepared are we?
The problem is, developers are looking to make the most money (nothing wrong with that except that when it comes into conflict with how safe an area is). In Salt Lake City, or the city of Draper to be exact homes have been built on a hill of sand that is already is causing stability issues for many homes and will be extremely dangerous when an earthquake hits that area. Further developers are allowed to build subdivisions in areas with only one escape route on the side of a mountain so that if a wild fire hits with little warning people may end up trapped with no escape.
Here is a link from the Portland City Club that had a presentation on emergency preparedness. The first presenter is Chris Goldfinger who happened to be a conference when the Japan earthquake hit. The video is about an hour long but offers some interesting insights on what will happen in the Portland region:
The second presenter Chris Higgins (Dr. Doom), makes an interesting observation about a small item that makes all homes safer in the event of an earthquake: The Northridge Valve. It is a device that will shut off natural gas to a home when an earthquake hits. He points out that they are not required in Oregon but our neighbors in California and Washington do require them. A less than $50.00 item that could save countless lives is not required in Oregon.
Few parts of the country are immune to one disaster or another. However, how often do we take survive-ability into account when looking at developments and rehabilitation's?