quake-panel

Corvallis City Club President Steve Schultz, left, introduces the seismic safety panel that spoke Tuesday at a club luncheon. From left are Jaimi Glass and Kevin Higgins of Benton County, Warren Lisser of Cascadia Seismic Strategies and Oregon State University engineering professors Andre Barbosa and Dan Cox.

“What can we do to keep Corvallis from being a pile of rubble?”

That was a question posed by Warren Lisser of Cascadia Seismic Strategies during a Tuesday afternoon panel on seismic safety.

Lisser’s question set the tone for an interesting — yet sobering — Corvallis City Club discussion before a crowd of more than 60 people at the Boys & Girls Club.

With the possibility of a massive earthquake in the Cascadia subduction zone looming over the West Coast, Lisser and four other panelists talked about preparedness.

“The more resilient the buildings, the more resilient the community,” said Lisser, a retired general contractor now involved in nonprofit seismic safety work.

Lisser’s group is working with the Downtown Corvallis Association on a project that would help downtown business owners retrofit their buildings. The group is hoping to pay for its project with a $100,000 Main Street grant and some in-kind donations.

Andre Barbosa, a civil and construction engineering professor at Oregon State University, used 20 of his students to do some field work in downtown Corvallis. In one small area between Monroe, Jefferson, First and Third, the group found that 36 of the 47 buildings were unreinforced masonry.

That’s bad news. Such buildings are very vulnerable to earthquakes. Earlier studies that Barbosa conducted after a 6.0 2014 earthquake in Napa, California, found that 29 percent of nonretrofitted buildings had to be demolished and just 46 percent of nonretrofitted buildings had reopened a year later. More than 80 percent of retrofitted structures were back in operation the next year.

Barbosa noted that although retrofitting has proven to be beneficial, “it comes with costs."

Dan Cox, Barbosa’s civil engineering colleague at OSU, noted that the College of Engineering has hired 20 new professors who are working on “resiliency” issues that relate to seismic safety.

Cox also is director of the Cascadia Lifelines Program, which is working with infrastructure giants such as the Bonneville Power Administration, NW Natural, the Oregon Department of Transportation, the Port of Portland and Portland General Electric.

“We’re trying to identify the critical needs these industries have,” said Cox, “plus the interconnectedness of all these systems.”

Kevin Higgins and Jaimi Glass of Benton County talked about emergency prep at ground level.

Higgins emphasized that the county’s first responsibility is to those who need the most help — those in dialysis or bed-ridden or other vulnerable populations. Higgins said the county does not have the resources to do large-scale food, water and shelter operations and he urged residents to “be prepared. It’s important to be self-sufficient. If you live in Alsea, we might not get to you in a month, and we might have to build a road to get there.”

Higgins added that fuel will be a huge issue in a post-quake Oregon.

“What you have in your tank is what you will have for maybe a month,” Higgins said, noting that first-responders, public works vehicles and hospital generators would top the fuel priority list.

Glass emphasized the importance of individuals working within the community.

“Neighborhood preparedness is our future,” Glass said. “Don’t call emergency services … knock on your neighbor's door.”

During the question-answer session, the panel was asked about how wood-frame houses will fare in a massive quake.

Barbosa responded that wood does better than unreinforced masonry, but he stressed that houses that are tied to their foundations come out even better.

Barbosa said that a $5,000 retrofit might be a good investment against a damage toll of several multiples of that in a quake.

Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9542. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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