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Engineer Calls Oregon Earthquake Investment 'A Start'

Geologists predict a Magnitude 8 earthquake -- or higher -- will hit the Cascadia subduction zone.

The Oregon Legislature made its largest-ever investment for earthquake improvements this past session, but experts say the state still has a long way to go.

Oregon’s problem with earthquakes may be that there aren’t enough of them.

“We’re fortunate and unfortunate at the same time,” explained Christopher Higgins, a professor of structural engineering at Oregon State University. “The ground doesn’t shake very often, so it’s not at the top of our list there’s lots of other priorities.”

“What’s going to wake us up is going to be really bad, and then it will be too late,” he added.

Geologists predict an earthquake of a magnitude of eight or higher will hit the Cascadia subduction zone, the fault line from northern California to British Columbia. They say there’s a one-in-three chance it could happen within the next 50 years.

In the last days of the session, Oregon lawmakers voted to dedicate nearly $300 million to earthquake-safety improvements to public buildings. That’s the largest they’ve ever spent at once on seismic preparedness. Most will go toward public schools.

Higgins said it’s an important investment, but there’s a lot more to do to make the state more resilient to natural disasters. Strong transportation networks to ensure aid response are at the top of his list.