The U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday passed legislation that would fund an earthquake early warning system.
H.R. 876, sponsored by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, requires the Federal Emergency Management Agency to develop a plan to purchase and install an early warning system. It also directs the president to establish an Earthquake and Tsunami Task Force to study the issue and make recommendations about how to plan for an earthquake and handle the aftermath if one occurs.
Scientists say Oregon is overdue for an earthquake around 9.0 on the Richter scale. The Cascadia Subduction Zone stretches from northern California to British Columbia, running right alongside the Oregon coast, stretching from northern California to British Columbia. Historically, the zone has slipped every 300 years or so, causing major earthquakes each time. The last such earthquake hit the region 319 years ago, in 1700 A.D., and was likely between 8.7 and 9.2.
For reference, that’s equivalent to the 2011 earthquake in Japan that was followed by a tsunami.
“It’s not a question of if a major earthquake will affect Oregon, but when,” DeFazio said in a written statement. “When a major earthquake does hit, it’s estimated that thousands of Oregonians will be killed or injured and the state will suffer $32 billion in economic damages.”
The proposed early warning system could trigger automatic shutdowns of trains and manufacturing lines, close bridges and protect students in unsafe schools, DeFazio said.
Oregon Earth Sciences Professor Doug Toomey said he favors DeFazio’s bill because of the unique threat posed by Cascadia, which he called the “sleeping giant.” He said in a written statement that an early warning system patterned after one Japan currently uses could “give scientists and the public necessary information that will make us safer and more resilient.”
The bill next goes to the Senate for consideration and if it passes there, would need to be signed by President Donald Trump to become law.