Disaster Preparedness Tips for People with Disabilities

Do you, a disabled person, want to live through an earthquake? Don’t come to Oregon. Here in Oregon, the risk of “The Big One” rises each year. “The Big One” is a reference to the Cascadia Earthquake that occurs almost every 223 years. The Cascadia Earthquake is a result of the subduction zone between the Pacific plate and the Juan De Fuca plate. Unfortunately, the West Coast (Vancouver Islands, British Columbia spanning to the coast of Cape Mendocino, California) is overdue for that earthquake by about 100 years. The number 223 was calculated from the average number of years between each megathrust earthquake in the past 10,270 years. What exactly does it take to be a prestigious megathrust earthquake? The threshold is a magnitude of 9.0 or larger.

The Magnitude of Destruction

For decades, researchers did not know of the major threat. The Cascadia subduction zone is relatively quiet compared to others. It wasn’t until the 1980s that seismologists started to question the data (or lack thereof). In the 2000s, substantial evidence connected a Japanese tsunami that occurred in 1700 to a megathrust earthquake off the coast of Oregon using forest analysis, sediment study and documentation of “earth shaking” from Native Americans. Some might remember the Tōhoku 2011 earthquake in Japan. Early figures showed anywhere between 15-34 billion U.S. dollars in damages from the earthquake alone. Later, the world bank indicated the total economic loss was $235 billion U.S. dollars. More importantly, tens of thousands of lives were lost. Over 19,747 individuals died as a result of the earthquake.

Researchers estimate that the Tōhoku earthquake’s death toll and damage will look very similar in Cascadia. Depending on where you live in the risk zone, your chances of surviving are difficult to calculate. Are you in a home or building that has been retrofitted or built after the 1990s? You will most likely survive.

Earthquakes and People with Disabilities

What if you use a mobility device, like a wheelchair? Could you make it out of a building? Chances are that the elevators would be locked or damaged. Are you in the tsunami hazard zone? You better move inland and fast. Nice looking motorized wheelchair you got there. It won’t make it over large, gaping holes and cracks in the cement caused by the shaking stress (and your only other option is stairs…go figure).

Long story short: the West Coast is largely unprepared. Out of everyone in the community, marginalized individuals are most likely to be impacted by any type of disaster. Individuals with disabilities face an incredibly large survival risk because most resources in a disaster are inaccessible. These resources include shelters, hospitals, camps, government warnings/communications and transportation.

How to Prepare for an Earthquake

What can you do to be prepared for an earthquake? Look at storing about two weeks’ worth of food and water for each person and animal in your home. This will help emergency responders dedicate their time and resources to those who need it. In Oregon specifically, the coast and valley are projected to go without water, sewer, cell service and electricity for several months. Any outside emergency response will take weeks to make it into the area because of infrastructure loss.

In addition to stockpiling food and water, you should have survival tools like camping gear, flashlights, a handheld radio and hygiene products easily accessible in a disaster. Find evacuation routes ahead of time. Maintain your home’s structural safety. Ensure that tall bookcases and mirrors are bolted to the wall to help prevent injury and death. Disasters can be scary to think about. You can ensure your safety by having a survival plan in place and understanding the facts about disasters that could happen in your area. This can minimize your risk of being impacted.

About Riley Hurt: Riley lives in Salem, Oregon, and uses a Stretto Power Wheelchair for mobility. Riley is enrolled in college, pursuing electrical and computer engineering. She hopes to make her future field more inclusive for people with disabilities. Click here to learn more about Riley.

Cascadia Preparation Resources

Informative resource about the impact and fault line itself:

Cascadia Subduction Zone – Let’s Get Prepared Together

What to do before, during, and after:

Oregon Office of Emergency Management : Community Preparedness : Hazards and

Preparedness : State of Oregon

Community Emergency Response Team’s informative and educational prep resources:

West Salem CERT – Cascadia Subduction Zone

Disaster Preparation Resources for Disabled Individuals

CDC Disability and Health Emergency Preparedness

FEMA Disaster Preparedness for People with Disabilities: Same But Different

Portland.gov Videos for Individuals with Disabilities

Emergency Self Preparedness Training for People with Disabilities

Video with Open Caption

Video with ASL

Video with Voice Description and Audio Narration