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Crews work to cover the construction site of a seismic retrofit that would reinforce two neighboring structures from foundation to the roof at Corvallis Fire Station 3 in June 2016. Work to retrofit buildings is part of creating a resilient community. 

Anibal Ortiz, Gazette-Times

Resilience is a new buzzword. But what does it mean, and what does it have to do with us as residents of Oregon and, specifically, Corvallis?

The National Institute of Standards and Technology  defines community resilience as the ability of a community to prepare for anticipated hazards, adapt to changing conditions, and withstand and recover rapidly from disruptions.

Corvallis is susceptible to a number of disruptions in the forms of natural hazards — floods, tsunamis, landslides, fires, wind storms, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes — and in order for us to be a more resilient community we need to take active measures to mitigate known vulnerabilities.

To start, we need to take an honest look around Corvallis to understand what might happen in the event of an earthquake, how we expect our community to operate after an earthquake, and where we need to implement improvements and preventative measures.

Having performed reconnaissance work after earthquakes in Haiti, Napa, Italy, and most recently Mexico City, the damage I observed in these cases was not unique nor unexpected for these types of earthquakes. Many people lost their homes, and in Mexico City, for example, people did not have access to potable water.

Each time I’ve returned home from one of these post-earthquake areas, I’ve been reminded that the general public’s expectations for how their buildings and infrastructure will perform do not match up with reality. The general public, for the most part, is not aware of the most vulnerable types of buildings and infrastructure and what might happen in their community after a disaster such as the predicted magnitude 9.0 Cascadia subduction zone earthquake. This is largely due to a disconnect in communication between the public and professionals in engineering and emergency management, and there is plenty of information available to the public. (The online version of this piece features a list of resources.)

However, before we pull the covers back over our heads and just accept doom and gloom, we should know that Oregon, Benton County, and Corvallis are taking steps to become more resilient.

What buildings are most vulnerable to damage and collapse?

If we look around Corvallis we see a number of beautiful historic buildings. Some of these building have been retrofitted; however, there are still a number of buildings that have not. Many of these buildings are unreinforced masonry buildings. These types of buildings are most vulnerable to severe damage in an earthquake. If we think of the performance of our community rather than a building-by-building approach we can understand that these buildings pose a threat not only to themselves but to the surrounding buildings as well.

What about electricity and water?

For a community to be resilient, recovery means more than just building performance. It means business can start up again after the earthquake, people can go back to work, children can go back to school, and people have a place to live. What do we need in order to do that?

We especially need utilities.

According to the Oregon Resilience Plan, for the first one to two months after a major earthquake, water will be delivered by trucks due to the potable water distribution system being heavily damaged. Businesses can use the resources provided by the Benton County Emergency Management to mitigate potential damage to lifelines in their building.

What can we do as citizens of Corvallis? Consider these steps:

• Review the documents provided by Benton County Emergency Management officials to make sure you, your family, and your neighbors are prepared (https://www.co.benton.or.us/sheriff/page/earthquakes).

• Make sure that public works improvement projects include a line item for seismic retrofits. Upgrading water distribution and electricity is less expensive when paired with routine maintenance.

• Support bond measures for seismic retrofits on local schools. Some of the schools in Corvallis have already been awarded seismic rehabilitation grants (http://www.orinfrastructure.org/Infrastructure-Programs/Seismic-Rehab/);

• Support the efforts of the Downtown Corvallis Association and Cascadia Seismic Strategies to help business owners retrofit their unreinforced masonry buildings (http://www.gazettetimes.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/sobering-panel-on-seismic-safety-issues/article_42f2a176-ed52-59a8-8603-4b6609856a2a.html).

Erica C. Fischer is an assistant professor in the School of Civil and Construction Engineering at Oregon State University.


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