Should we move to Portland OR despite the impending "Big" Earthquake?
May 18, 2015 1:15 PM   Subscribe

We have loose plans to move up to Portland, OR later this year and "live happily ever after". Except last night I stumbled upon some articles abut the "Big" Earthquake and now I'm questioning EVERYTHING. Am I crazy? Have you been in a similar situation? What did you do?

We're a young family and we're looking for a place to settle down. We'd like to do boring adult things like buy a house, have a garden, maybe raise a few farm animals. We're looking for a "forever" home, a place to really put down roots.

We visited Portland, OR earlier this year and fell in love with it. Its affordable for us, progressive, and has a great balance between beautiful outdoorsy countryside and the culture and community of a larger city. Our current plan is (was?) to move to Portland later this year to test it out. If we continue to like it, we can buy a house next year. In a few more years my parents will move out to be near us. We're expecting a little one due later this year.

After a bit more research however, we discovered the Cascadia Subduction Zone. Depending on what article you read, the chances of a 9.0 earthquake within the next 50 years is 10%-60%. Wikipedia says 37%. "The question is when, not if" says one headline. Many of the articles seem to be written to sensationalize and prey on fear. Even the more reputable, science-based articles can still be pretty unsettling. Needless to say I don't feel great about moving forward with a plan that puts us so clearly into danger.

The issue is that we don't really know where else we could live. Literally any place we pick within the US will have some sort of danger of natural disaster. We want to stay near family so going abroad is not something we're considering at the moment.

I know there is no way to tell what the future holds. My question is - am I psyching myself out about this earthquake? I know its a real danger, but is it dumb of me to not want to move there because of it? How does a normal adult make decisions like this? (I certainly don't feel like a real adult right now!)

PS. I haven't even started looking at the Volcanos yet...
posted by modernsquid to Human Relations (42 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I moved to Portland with the same questions about earthquakes in my mind, with the intention to make it my home anyway. Things happened and now I no longer live there.

Life's too short to worry about potential earthquakes. There are thousands of other ways everything could go wrong. Like you said, "Literally any place we pick within the US will have some sort of danger of natural disaster."

I moved back to New Orleans, if that helps clarify my opinion on natural disasters.
posted by komara at 1:21 PM on May 18, 2015 [17 favorites]

Earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, tornados, wildfires. Literally everywhere you live, something terrible can happen. I mean, we could all be wiped out by a gamma ray burst at any moment. And no matter where you go, there are going to be car wrecks, cancer, and food poisoning. There's just no human way to comprehend the odds of every potential bad outcome and deal with them in a rational fashion.

Step away from the abyss, recognize that life is inherently unsafe and ephemeral, and ask yourself: how do I want to spend my time between now and then?
posted by Andrhia at 1:22 PM on May 18, 2015 [9 favorites]

Being in Santa Monica now, how do you currently deal with managing the fear? It's nearly the same threat.
posted by cecic at 1:22 PM on May 18, 2015 [38 favorites]

Needless to say I don't feel great about moving forward with a plan that puts us so clearly into danger.

Your profile says you're in California, where we also are at risk for catastrophic earthquakes. And fires. The risks of which are dwarfed (in a daily life kind of way) if you ever do things like... drive a car.

Move to Portland if you want to move to Portland!
posted by rtha at 1:24 PM on May 18, 2015 [6 favorites]

You could always buy earthquake insurance. It's not cheap, but it exists. That plus have some food & water on hand.

Even in a really high-impact earthquake like Loma Prieta relatively few people died relative to the number impacted. $6B of property damage vs 64 deaths. In that same year there were 122 deaths in the first 6 months on highways in Los Angeles alone. So dying in a traffic accident remains a greater threat.

Even then, there were lots of surrounding areas that were unaffected. There were definitely people who commuted into San Francisco every day whose houses were unaffected.
posted by GuyZero at 1:24 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you own your property, you can take a lot of measures to make sure it's optimized for safety. There are earthquake retrofits that can be made to the structure and you can also secure your indoor furniture and follow earthquake country rules (like no hanging things on the wall around the bed and not putting beds next to windows that are made of glass). You can also be prepared with earthquake survival kits at home, at work, and in the car. And, you can cultivate habits like making sure you have a spare phone charging battery with you and keep your gas tank 1/2 full rather than letting it go down to empty before fill-ups. You can also elect to buy (pricey) earthquake insurance. Yes, "The Big One" is coming. But, not living in earthquake country is not any kind of assurance that you'll be otherwise safe from all risks. Be prepared.
posted by quince at 1:29 PM on May 18, 2015 [7 favorites]

When I moved to Seattle in 1990 my geologist friend said "Mt. Rainier's gonna blow!" I moved here anyway and have been here for 25 years. Whatever happens, anywhere, is gonna happen or not; you can't live your life in fear of the unknown.
posted by matildaben at 1:32 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

The issue is that we don't really know where else we could live. Literally any place we pick within the US will have some sort of danger of natural disaster.

The Pacific Northwest and the Upper Midwest are a few of the safest places you could be.
posted by desjardins at 1:41 PM on May 18, 2015 [9 favorites]

What is it about earthquakes that scares you? You can prepare for most things, like making sure your property is structurally sound, having a disaster plan for your family, and keeping emergency kits and extra food/water on hand.

If it's the scary shaking that gets to you, like it used to get to me (even though I lived through many large earthquakes in Southern California and a few smaller ones in the Bay Area), then you could do what I did and watch videos of the 2011 Japan earthquake. It might sound strange, but I managed to desensitize myself to my personal earthquake demons after watching scores of videos showing that people made it through a terrifyingly strong earthquake without being swallowed up by the earth. (And even the video that showed a giant moving crack in the ground due to liquefaction wasn't as scary as what my imagination had cooked up.)

Also, if earthquakes are your biggest fear about relocating, keep in mind that you're better off living in earthquake country -- where buildings will be built to withstand earthquakes and where local governments will have emergency plans in place -- than somewhere where they aren't as common. When a small earthquake rattled some of my family in the Midwest (and got them talking about it for weeks afterward!), my first thought was of all the brick houses out there that could collapse in a stronger quake. In a lot of ways, you'll be safer in a state that expects these things to happen.
posted by phatkitten at 1:41 PM on May 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

You can prepare for most things, like making sure your property is structurally sound, having a disaster plan for your family, and keeping emergency kits and extra food/water on hand

Personal preparation for an earthquake is one thing. Preparing for a 9.0 is...something else. I mean, I live only a few miles from the Hayward fault which is 40 years overdue for a very large seismic event. You can be 'prepared' but no amount of my public radio sponsorship disaster preparedness gifts is going to help against major fires, off-ramps collapsing, refinery disasters, etc.

Not that this is a reason not to move to Portland, but big earthquakes are a thing. When it comes, everyone it going to be like "I don't know why those people would live there in the first place...everyone knew it was coming..."
posted by vunder at 1:52 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks guys, lots of good insight to talk me down my from my ledge.

And re: living in SoCal. We've only been here a few years and had never planned to "settle" here. We know about the earthquake danger down here too (obviously) but never intended to settle here. I feel the difference now is that we want to settle in Portland, so this is something we have to deal with head on.
posted by modernsquid at 1:57 PM on May 18, 2015

You are psyching yourself out.

I survived the 1994 Northridge earthquake (got the t-shirt!), I was at ground zero, and was one of the casualties and have permanent injuries related to what happened. But I love Portland, and would rather live here than anywhere else at the moment. The benefits outweigh the risks (of which I am all too familiar). Hey, I picnicked on Mount Tabor -- an extinct volcano -- over the weekend, and partake in local hot springs, all courtesy of living in a seismically-active area. I also live in a wobbly old wooden house, which I feel a heck of a lot safer in than where I was in LA.

I think you should be much, much more worried about the perpetual winter rains, low Vitamin D and such. And if and when you come to Portland, please, for all that is holy, drive nice and polite, let other people go first, you know, be a mensch. That is what keeps Portland great.
posted by nanook at 1:59 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

The issue is that we don't really know where else we could live. Literally any place we pick within the US will have some sort of danger of natural disaster.

I'm not a huge proponent of telling people to move to Portland, as its starting to become a difficult place to live for a bunch of other reasons…. but this can be said for just about everywhere in the entire world. The whole world has natural disasters of a certain type. This is a silly reason not to live somewhere.

BUT, if you don't like earthquakes, this really might not be the place for you. I've got my own dealbreakers with living places, and have moved for "less" as it were. One thing to really consider though, is sort of what Phatkitten says; we don't really build for it out here. We just bought a home and earthquake insurance is…insanely expensive, and retrofitting the house for an earthquake (especially one of the that magnitude) is also insanely expensive. Newer construction doesn't have some of those problems, and there's certainly enough new construction to choose from….but because we don't have lots of earthquakes, means we're not prepared for them in the NW the same way more earthquake prone areas are. See also: any amount of snow at all. We can't hang with it, and the city and country governments just don't have robust plans. Last time there was a small shake, there was a not-so-insignificant amount of damage, that in a place like souther California, would have literally been shrugged off.

I grew up here, and my parents have always kept an earthquake kit in the shed; a couple weeks worth of food and water, along with some basic shelter and some medical supplies. Theirs is a bit more elaborate, but we do the same thing on a smaller scale. Its a good idea regardless, and yeah…if a 9.0 hits, shit's gonna be fucked regardless of preparation.

I think this got posted to the blue, but OSU (I think?) released a study that overlaid all the dangerous pockets of the city in terms of natural disasters over a google map; Hilariously enough, all the rich, nice parts of the city are kind of slated for the worst kind of problems in terms of earthquakes (soil liquefaction, directly over fault lines, etc).
posted by furnace.heart at 1:59 PM on May 18, 2015

In my opinion as a seismically experienced person, the advice in this AskMe is right on point. There are natural disasters lurking everywhere in the US. An earthquake, as most of these disasters, is something you and your family can actually prepare for.

- Prepare your home: whether you buy a house or an apartment, you can check with the local building authorities to see whether they have been built according to anti-seismic standards (my mom's an architect, it's ALL she talks about whenever we have an earthquake and our house shakes like a halloween skeleton, but nothing happens because it was buillt to resist).

- Prepare your family: earthquakes and their effects are unpredictable, but you can control (and train) your and your family's immediate reactions: stand up, take shelter under previously identified structures.

I'd give you online sources for all this, but all my sources are in Spanish! I'm sure there's a lot of information about this to be found at FEMA websites and offices.

(After the 2010 earthquake in Chile, it became very popular to have a flashlight with an AM/FM radio attached to it at home. They were sold everywhere. I think it's a great symbol of a culture of preparedness, that came about through experiences. Oregonians must have a whole lot of such little items and behaviors, and you should learn them!)
posted by ipsative at 2:00 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

I've lived in the Portland area for 38 years and the largest earthquake I've experienced was like a 5.5.

This isn't, like, a *rational* argument or anything but maybe it'll help.
posted by chrchr at 2:01 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

According to the USGS, a total of two people have been killed in Oregon due to earthquakes1 since 1811.

1. Excluding Tsunamis
posted by kiltedtaco at 2:04 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

Am I crazy? Have you been in a similar situation? What did you do?

This is not a situation, this is fear of the unknown. You go on living and you make a bridge between the short-term and the long-term through your actions and inactions.
posted by psoas at 2:04 PM on May 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

The big 9.0 quake is allegedly overdue, but it's the same one that's been terrorizing my fellow Seattlites for a while, also a 100,000-year event. Could be later today, could be 1000 years from now. Prepare a bug-out-bag you can live out of for 3 days, moving or staying, until help arrives, get insurance, and, most importantly, go about your life. Prepare for it, but don't count on it.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:17 PM on May 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

The Cascadia Subduction Zone can produce 9.0 earthquakes, but remember that the big ones are going to happen way out off the coast, so the shaking won't be as intense in Portland as it would be near the epicenter. The bigger threat from these quakes would be the tsunamis that would hit the coast. I don't know the details in Portland, but in Seattle it's widely considered that the 7.0s that the Seattle Fault can produce are probably a bigger risk than the 9.0s along the subduction zone.

What you can do if you choose to move there is be prepared, like other folks have mentioned. Have emergency food and water supplies on hand. I got a pack of MREs from Amazon -- they're probably disgusting but I figure it will be nice to have the option of hot meals in the event of a natural disaster, and they last five years. Make sure the place you're living in is well-constructed; don't live or work in unreinforced masonry structures. Look on a hazard map and figure out where the liquifaction and landslide zones are likely to be and don't live in those places.

Also, on the volcano note, I did a quick google and it sounds like Mount Adams or Mount Hood are not expected to cause lahars that will come anywhere near Portland, so a volcanic eruption is likely to be more of a "memorable pain in the ass" than "certain doom".
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 2:29 PM on May 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

Re earthquake insurance: people are calling it expensive, but mine is $50 a month. I know that's a lot to some people, but it's not like it's $10,000 annually.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:29 PM on May 18, 2015

The risks are what they are. "I've been fine" and "haven't seen it yet" arguments are irrelevant. "I've left for less" is also irrelevant. What's relevant is the benefits (current and potential) vs. the risks (known and potential) for YOU. Of course it's impossible to know those with perfect precision or certainty, so many people just give up, shrug, and do what they feel like doing based on appearances... but if you want to do better, you're going to have to actually list out the benefits and potentials vs. risks and costs, weigh them rationally, and make a careful decision.

In other words, either use logic or don't. If you want random non-fact-based reassurances, though, apparently you can get them.

(I can tell you, though, a couple of factors to consider:

1) Apparently the whole downtown area is riddled with multiple levels of tunnels, which were put there when the old downtown was built and which were still being used up until WWII. "Earthquake-proofing" has happened for some tunnels, but there are apparently a lot of them that haven't yet been discovered;

2) Just your house being safe from an earthquake doesn't mean you'll want to live in the area after an earthquake. Other people being safe, healthy, happy, well-educated, and well-fed is _the best way_ to have a good life -- if that all stops working, being in your structurally-sound house won't be much fun.
posted by amtho at 2:36 PM on May 18, 2015

Hi there - I'm not sure this will provide you peace of mind or not, but my bf and myself moved to Portland recently, and we're both geologists who know a reasonable amount of info about Pacific NW hazards. We weighed the options and decided that this was the best place for us, regardless of potential geologic hazards. Also consider that the USGS is super awesome and constantly is monitoring the US for volcanic, seismic and other geologic hazards and are pretty decent about detecting this kind of activity and reporting it. At the end of the day, you need to decide for yourself if the benefits outweigh the risk. I know it did for my family. Good luck!
posted by FireFountain at 2:39 PM on May 18, 2015 [6 favorites]

Re earthquake insurance: people are calling it expensive, but mine is $50 a month. I know that's a lot to some people, but it's not like it's $10,000 annually.

Really? For a home? I can't remember how much they wanted when I looked into it but it was something like $1200 or $1400 a month? And I have heard people don't get much coverage in the end either.
posted by vunder at 2:48 PM on May 18, 2015

(Re re earthquake insurance: to be eligible, your insurer may require that you spend a few $K strapping your house to its foundation and such. Mine did.)

Oregon Public Broadcasting is currently running their Unprepared: Will We Be Ready for the Megaquake? series. You may find it informative, sensational, or both.

Yes, we're on a fault line, and yes, there will be an earthquake someday. Possibly tomorrow, possibly after your great-great-great grandchildren have emigrated to the Muskville suburb of Mars Colony One. Don't let "the impending megaquake" be the reason you don't move to Portland.
posted by mumkin at 2:49 PM on May 18, 2015

I am a geologist, but I am not your geologist, nor am I a seismologist or geophysicist.

First of all, if you have a specific address in mind, you can look up the address to ascertain its earthquake hazard risk via Portland Maps. Input an address, then once found, click on Maps in the menu bar top right; this will bring up another menu bar - you want hazards. The earthquake hazard map will be at the bottom. Here is one I did just using a random address. If you click on it you get a larger map that you can zoom in and out. (You can also use that map to look for other hazards such as floodplains and landslides.) There is also a liquification hazard map set available from the Oregon Department of Geology.

Second, there are other information sources out there like the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, and the Cascadia Region Earthquake Workgroup (CREW) with resources. CREW, for examples, provides a webpage with various links to risk reduction. (Normally I'd add the USGS in there but they are severely underfunded at the moment - many of their seismic hazards web pages haven't been updated in 5+ years - but mostly it's because their urban seismic hazards program in the PNW focuses on Seattle, not Portland.) The Oregon Office of Emergency Management also has an informational page, as well as the Portland OEM. Educating yourself from the experts is the first step in risk assessment and reduction.

Third, it really does come down to risk assessment and reduction. Your risk in your current location is different, because it's a different kind of fault - the magnitude probability is not as high, and there's more of a chance of little earthquakes relieving stress, which is different than the Cascadia Megathrust - which is also a different seismic risk than crustal earthquakes and volcanic related earthquakes in the region. Models suggest stress in the subduction zone might not be able to relieve itself except in possible 8+ bursts, and they happen every 300-500 years, the last one in 1700; hence the probability assessment. So I applaud your willingness to question the risk in Portland. There's also a concern about un-reinforced masonry structures in Portland. However you can do things to mitigate your risk; you can learn about the best areas to live in and you can prepare yourself as suggested.

I'm not willing to say whether or not you should live there, but *I* wouldn't be uncomfortable moving there. There are a few things I would take special care to prepare for: lack of access to other places and mobility in the event of an earthquake, so plans for what happens when family members are separated are important; lack of food, water, and electricity; and I'd be careful about living in or next to taller brick and cement structures. To me, and I must emphasize that, Portland as the area goes has a much smaller risk than the coastline or Seattle from a seismic event; I would fear an event disrupting regional transportation and utilities more than, say, my house collapsing.

One yucky thing about talking about seismic events or other hazards that could literally happen any day now is that people get really complacent when it doesn't happen, so make sure you factor in the risk of your being complacent after some time as well. All in all, however, you have a larger chance of a car accident going to the grocery store tomorrow, or your diet killing you slowly over time. Educate yourself; decide what risk you're comfortable with, and what level or preparedness is necessary for you to live there comfortably.
posted by barchan at 2:56 PM on May 18, 2015 [9 favorites]

There are lots of emergency preparedness events and groups in Portland. Go to any street fair or similar and the odds are good that there will be a table with information on an organization you can get involved with.

Example event
posted by aniola at 3:00 PM on May 18, 2015

Living anywhere is dangerous. You gotta live somewhere. If Portland ticks all your boxes, then that's where you should go.

As a parent of a small child, I have really had to come to terms with the fact that dangerous conditions exist pretty much everywhere, all the time. Falls and cars are a way bigger concern to me than earthquakes. You just have to do the best you can to live a life of joy rather than fear. Being prepared helps.

And as a datapoint, my GeoVera earthquake policy for a house in the Portland area is $380/year. Which I thought was expensive until I read a couple other comments in this thread!
posted by rabbitrabbit at 3:21 PM on May 18, 2015

How much of your life do you want to spend living in fear of things you can not control, and letting that fear guide everything you do?
posted by Brittanie at 3:36 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

> Really? For a home?

Yes, near Seattle. $594, for the most recent annual renewal. My house is up to code for earthquake stuff. That's about how much I paid for my old house, too, after getting it retrofitted. It's through American Modern Insurance, but I don't see earthquake coverage listed on their website; maybe I have some cool deal because I'm a member of USAA.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:40 PM on May 18, 2015

A lot of places in the U.S. are at risk of the "next big earthquake" so you're going to find it more limiting than maybe you realize if you're trying to avoid that. For instance I live in Kentucky, which is generally not a state people think of as an earthquake-prone place but we're actually fairly close to a major fault line.

Although obviously some places are more prone to them than others, the vast majority of the United States is in some kind of seismic zone and could theoretically have an earthquake.
posted by Kimmalah at 4:12 PM on May 18, 2015

I think it's good to at least be aware that there's a risk, you can prepare accordingly and from the advice above, sounds like there's lots you can do. A small city in Australia had an earthquake in 1989, 13 people were killed, most when a building collapsed. Australia sits in the middle of a plate, we never in a gazillion years expected that earthquake and sure as heck don't prepare for them.

I totally get your fears though and if those articles freak you out DO NOT WATCH any of the sensationalistic shows about it (oh dear god I should not have watched "It could happen tomorrow!!!" about the potential for a Seattle earthquake. Especially not when sitting in a hotel room in San Fransisco). But the sensible advice in this thread is handy, practical advice that reassures me and while moving to Portland is not likely in my future, it reassures me enough that I would if the opportunity arose. It sounds like a great place for your family. Just do your research so you pick a location that's less prone to liquefaction, prep your house and plan for emergencies of all kinds. California has helpful resources on their Shakeout page (I've managed to be in LA for two of those annual drill days, for an earthquake fearful person, it first horrified and then really reassured me).
posted by kitten magic at 4:56 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you're looking for a fear mitigation tool and not an alternate plan, the city of Los Angeles offers a free eight part class called CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) that includes large sections on dealing with earthquakes and the aftermath of disasters (turning off gas lines, search & rescue techniques). Perhaps take the class before you move?
posted by bluecore at 5:18 PM on May 18, 2015

you could do what I did and watch videos of the 2011 Japan earthquake.

I have a better idea: You're already in SoCal! Go to Universal Studios and go on that tram ride where they simulate the last Big One.

I'm gonna guess you're not native to Earthquakelandia. Honestly, almost all of the time they're not a big deal. Almost all of the time, they're small. Sure, a Big One is due, but it's been due for how many decades? Nobody knows when it'll show up. You can get insurance, you can set up an earthquake emergency kit, and hope for the best. People have been living all over the West Coast for ages and have been fine. Sure, you might get unlucky if you drive across a bridge at the wrong time. It can happen. It might. But well, you can enjoy life in Portland in the meantime, can't you?

And as you say, natural disasters are everywhere. Pick your poison. I think I'm fine with quakes, as opposed to tornadoes having seasons, hurricanes having seasons...Quakes just show up once in a great while.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:46 PM on May 18, 2015

I live in the area. For my peace of mind I got earthquake insurance. It's VERY affordable...I can't remember exactly how much right now, but less than $25/mo. It is basically catastrophic insurance, but it does cover rent for a year while your home is rebuilt.
posted by Cloudberry Sky at 6:19 PM on May 18, 2015

> And re: living in SoCal. We've only been here a few years and had never planned to "settle" here. We know about the earthquake danger down here too (obviously) but never intended to settle here. I feel the difference now is that we want to settle in Portland, so this is something we have to deal with head on.

This is still irrational (though understandable!). What if you had moved to California, temporarily, the day before the Northridge quake? It wouldn't have mattered that you only intended to be here a couple of years. You've lived in Southern California in a period (I gather) when you haven't experienced a major quake; that's not thanks to "we're just here temporarily," and treating Portland warily because of this feeling isn't rational. That doesn't mean you have to ignore it - you can move or not move anywhere you want for any reason. Just know what the real reason is.
posted by rtha at 6:21 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Eighteen years ago this month, I went to see some sort of disaster movie at the theater with a friend. Think it was probably Dante's Peak.

Living, as I do, at the base of Mt. Hood, and having a crystal clear memory of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens (35 years ago today), it spooked us a bit. The next day, had a conversation with some others who'd seen the movie, too. General consensus among all us life-long locals was that well, at least it was a possible danger we were familiar with.

At least it isn't crazy wind that will tear our homes apart, though we live with high wind as a norm.
At least our rivers stay where they belong, and only bother those who build too close.
At least we don't have to deal with hurricanes, or weeks and weeks of snow, or... you get the picture.

We consider ourselves relatively fortunate, honestly. An occasional mudslide or rockfall, sure, but a real disaster? Nah. We're good.

Two days later, my house burnt down. Newest wiring in the house, too. Lost literally everything, and considered ourselves darn lucky to escape with our lives and most of our pets.

Moral of the story, if it's going to happen, it's going to happen, no matter where you are.
Be happy in whatever place you choose.
posted by stormyteal at 7:42 PM on May 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

One more. As a USian who has lived in Tokyo since 2002, Portland is one of the few places in America I would even consider living in despite the quake risk. At least you know what a likely problem is and a minimum of preparation can go a long way. Since 2011 I keep a quake bag near my apartment door and one at work. And, I just do not worry about earthquakes. Go live in Portland if you like it there.
posted by Gotanda at 8:05 PM on May 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I live in Portland, and have spent my entire life save a couple years living in the Northwest. There has always been the "threat" of "the big one", but the thing about earthquake predictions is, they're shit. Always.

Living here is great - and most of us don't live in fear of an event that is likely to happen but not likely to happen in the next 100 years. Or may be likely to happen tomorrow. Point is, we just don't know, and we don't let it bother us. Build out a small emergency food/shelterkit, throw it in your (main floor) pantry or closet, and forget about it. Make sure your family knows what to do and where to evacuate to and meet up in case a big earthquake happens, and live your life.
posted by pdb at 8:37 PM on May 18, 2015

It's not actually true that everywhere you could choose to live has the same level of risk, and that you can't know what that risk is. Risks are probabilities, and experts do their best to quantify them. You don't know for sure ahead of time whether you will be unlucky, but there's a difference between living somewhere where the scientists estimate the probability of a 9.0+ quake in the next 50 years at 37% vs an area where they don't bother trying to calculate the chances.

And advice that earthquakes aren't really a big deal is simply wrong when the predicted earthquake is 9.0+.

Some places people choose to live are known to have more risks than others. One way of estimating the risk is to look at insurance rates. If you can't get insurance because you're in a fire zone, a flood zone, or a liquefaction zone that tells you something too.

I don't think it's dumb to not want to move somewhere with a known high risk of a major disaster. It also wouldn't be dumb to move there anyway. I think the "adult" way to make a decision like this is to find the best information you can about the risks, without obsessing, and weigh that against your desires, financial & other constraints and other advantages and disadvantages and try to make a decision that feels right to you, that you are happy with.
posted by jjwiseman at 11:26 PM on May 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is the main reason I won't live on the West Coast. You're not crazy to worry about this. It WILL happen, and most likely within the next 50-100 years. You've gotten good advice about how to mitigate the risk, but wanted to chime in and say your fears are legit.
posted by agregoli at 9:04 AM on May 19, 2015

Oh yes. The "big one." Every time we have an earthquake in the Seattle that anyone actually feels (usually resulting in less damage than is inflicted by a two cats chasing each other through the house), we get a flurry of articles and news stories warning about how the "big one" is overdue. Oh, the terror!

This is not a reason not to move to Portland. It's a reason to be prepared (earthquake kit with drinking water, earthquake insurance for homeowners, look up what the latest wisdom is on how to protect yourself during and immediately after an earthquake, have a plan for how you will contact your parents/children/spouse/dogsitter if one happens).

Is there any place in the US with no risk for a natural disaster? I'm sure glad we don't have tornadoes and severe thunderstorms here like we did in Minnesota, for example. This year, wildfires in eastern Oregon and Washington will be a much bigger hazard than earthquakes due to the drought conditions up and down the west coast. Portland won't see these fires, though.

I really don't mean to come off as too flip about this, given the two earthquakes that just happened in Nepal. I just mean to say that your pros far outweigh the very uncertain possibility of the PNW "big one" happening while you are in Portland.

Good luck with your plans!
posted by Pearl928 at 11:14 AM on May 19, 2015

I had this same exact fear before moving out west. The reason it's a fear is because scientists have put a percentage chance on it. Sure, there is a chance, but there a chance for anything bad to happen to you. You could move to Idaho and get hit by a drunk driver all the same, but people will drive cars everyday because the benefits outweigh the fear. Most people will die of heart disease, but yet people still choose not to exercise and still choose to eat processed foods. You would be better off focusing on these sorts of things -- driving very carefully and keeping a good diet. If Portland is a city that will make you happy, then why give that up to live your life in fear? There's also the real chance that when/if an earthquake hits, you won't get hurt. You could look for places that have been retrofitted to withstand earthquakes, if you're worried. You could have earthquake-readiness supplies on hand. But I don't think you let this possibility keep you away.
posted by AppleTurnover at 12:25 PM on May 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

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