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Oregon Agency Plans Earthquake-Proof Buildings For Government 'Continuity'

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The proposed Oregon Resilience Buildings One and Two would replace surface parking lots along the Capitol Mall in Salem.

An Oregon agency is proposing two new earthquake proof buildings near the state Capitol in Salem to ensure government continuity after a Magnitude 9 offshore mega quake. The state buildings would have solar power and backup generators, independent water and sewage systems, and shock absorbers under the foundation.

Oregon's new state resilience officer, Mike Harryman, described the design at an earthquake engineering conference happening in Portland this week.

"If there's not a disaster, they would have state agencies in there,” he said. “If the disaster happened, they would move those agencies out and they'd have a spot for the governor, the Legislature and the Supreme Court folks to come together and make decisions -- those who are still standing -- to really kick start our recovery efforts."

In 2015, the Oregon Legislature rejected a roughly $300 million seismic retrofit of the landmark Capitol building. This year's legislature would need to sign off on proceeding to a detailed design for eventual construction of this proposed new earthquake-proof office and meeting complex.

The state Department of Administrative Services proposes to pay back the estimated $229 million construction cost through rents charged to tenant agencies.

A fact sheet circulated to Oregon lawmakers by DAS said the purpose of what it dubbed Oregon Resilience Buildings One and Two differs from the existing state Emergency Operations Center in Salem. It said the EOC focuses on emergency response and short-term needs, while the purpose of the up to 1,600 people working in the proposed new complex would be "continuity of the government and the State's long term economic recovery."

The two proposed resilience buildings would replace surface parking lots along the Oregon Capitol Mall. The DAS fact sheet said construction could start in 2019 if the project was approved by the state legislature.

Building 1 is conceived as a highly energy-efficient, five-story office building designed to accommodate 1,100 in normal operation and up to 1,600 occupants after a disaster. It would rest on "base isolator" pads, which are rubber and steel bearings that serve to dampen earthquake shocks to protect the building. Emergency supplies would be stored on site.

The design includes eight large rooms "that could be used for legislative hearings or other large group meetings."

Building 2 in the complex is conceived as a six-story parking structure and energy plant. It would have a solar array on the roof and house emergency generators, batteries and fuel. This energy plant would supply electricity to the people working in Building 1. An existing well on the property would provide water to the disaster resilience complex.

Washington's State Capitol building has survived three strong earthquakes -- in 1949, 1965, and 2001 -- but the state Legislature had to relocate to portable buildings in the wake of the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake. The landmark, domed Capitol in Olympia reopened in 2004 after $120 million in repairs and upgrades.

"The repairs to the Legislative Building after the 2001 earthquake should help the structure withstand future seismic events," the Washington Department of Enterprise Services said in a statement.

The building's availability for immediate occupancy after the feared "Big One" is another matter.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.