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Congressman Peter DeFazio

Representing the 4th District of OREGON

DeFazio Applauds House Passage of Bill to Support Earthquake Early Warning System for Pacific Northwest

Mar 27, 2017
Press Release

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 654, the Pacific Northwest Earthquake Preparedness Act of 2017, legislation introduced by House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) that would identify funding for an earthquake early warning system off the Pacific Northwest coast. This critical early warning system could save lives, reduce injuries, and mitigate infrastructure damage from the devastating effects of a major quake off the Oregon Coast. The legislation passed 395-11.

“We have known about the threat posed by the Cascadia Subduction Zone for decades, and yet we have failed to prepare and protect our coastline from a catastrophic earthquake. My legislation is simple—it forces the federal government to get serious and install a critical system that could save thousands of lives, countless injuries, and billions of dollars of damage. I applaud my colleagues for taking this threat seriously and working with me to prepare and protect our coastal communities. I urge the Senate to pass this common sense bill,” said DeFazio. See video of Ranking Member DeFazio’s speech supporting the legislation here.

DeFazio’s legislation would require FEMA to develop a plan and identify the necessary funding for purchase and installation of an earthquake early warning system for the Cascadia Subduction Zone. It also clarifies that FEMA may use hazard mitigation funds to improve the earthquake early warning system.

An early warning system can send alerts to trigger automatic shutdowns of trains, manufacturing lines, close bridges, and protect students in unsafe schools. It can help reduce the long-term economic losses that are often excluded from damage estimates. A warning can have significant impact by alerting citizens of the need to take appropriate action when an earthquake occurs. It also directs the President to establish an Earthquake and Tsunami Task Force that will develop a strategy to better protect and prepare for major earthquakes and tsunamis on the Cascadia Subduction Zone that could devastate our coastlines.

“Cascadia poses a unique threat," said University of Oregon Earth Sciences Professor Doug Toomey. "'Congressman DeFazio's legislation recognizes that the "Sleeping Giant" requires an offshore/onshore monitoring system like the one Japan has developed. It would give scientists and the public necessary information that will make us safer and more resilient." The University of Oregon, along with the University of Washington and US Geological Survey, operates the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, one of three seismic networks that make up the backbone of the onshore west coast earthquake early warning system.

To watch Ranking Member DeFazio’s speech in support of the legislation, click here.

BACKGROUND

Oregon’s greatest risk is from the Cascadia Subduction Zone. The Cascadia Subduction Zone, which stretches from northern California up into British Columbia, is the mirror image of the subduction zone off the coast of Japan that caused the magnitude nine earthquake and resulting tsunami in 2011. Historically, the Cascadia subduction zone “slips” every 300 years or so causing major earthquakes. The last quake was in 1700 and evidence suggests it was a magnitude 8.7 to a 9.2.  January 26, 2017 marked the 317th anniversary of the last major Cascadia earthquake.

Experts agree that Oregon is due for another major earthquake. Some forecasts suggest there is a ten to twenty percent chance of a magnitude 9 quake on the CSZ in the next fifty years, while others predict a twenty-five to forty percent chance of a major quake on the south end of the CSZ in the next fifty years.

Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1471, the FEMA Disaster Assistance Reform Act of 2015. That legislation included language proposed by DeFazio to require the President to establish an Earthquake and Tsunami Task Force to develop a strategy and make recommendations on how to prepare for and respond to an earthquake in the CSZ. It also included a provision DeFazio sponsored to clarify that building a capability for an earthquake early warning system is an eligible use of FEMA’s hazard mitigation funding.   The Senate did not consider H.R. 1471.