When the Ground Shakes: ENVS Senior Perspectives on the Cascadia Earthquake

This was collaboratively written by Sofia Linden, Marissa Weileder and Georgia Reid. We interviewed Environmental Studies seniors about their perspectives on the (anticipated) Cascadia Earthquake in order to practice niterview methods and qualitative analysis.

Subject: Earthquakes and Approaches/Perspectives in Environmental Problems

Question(s): How do we prepare for and  respond to the Cascadia earthquake? How do scholars of environmental studies consider of their own situations in the context of this ‘disaster’?

Issues to address:

  • Different strategies of preparation / weigh relative strengths
  • How ENVS training has influenced student’s thinking on this topic

Daphne Yuen was thankful to reflect on how her ENVS training has influenced her perception of environmental issues — something she said she doesn’t often do so explicitly. She said she’s not particularly scared about the earthquake, because she comes from California and grew up with discourse and practice of preparedness, but that she knows she isn’t actually prepared enough to protect herself were it to occur — say, tomorrow. Daphne’s first knowledge of the Cascadia Earthquake came from a (now often cited) New Yorker article (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/20/the-really-big-one), circulating on her Facebook feed at the time. That was about two years ago, she said.

Daphne mapped her own life within various scales. She reckoned preparedness and community engagement was an individual responsibility (like building neighborly trust, citing AnaCapri’s work); membership within institutions (LC’s responsibility to protect students; public infrastructure), and wider Portland communities (work of rebuilding in aftermath). Some of her language — of scale, for example — suggested to me that she was conceiving of herself and her own feelings through theoretical guidelines of this particular Environmental Studies education.

Daphne reflected on how her perspective of self has changed through environmental studies within a liberal arts framework. How does she marry her personal concern with the thinking process she’s learned in ENVS (which encourages mapping actors and processes, situating people in contexts, then evaluating those contexts through various disciplines and perspectives)? It is difficult to move from knowledge to application when considering personal safety.

Audrey is not from the West Coast and has never taken a geology course, but has focused on risk perceptions during her time at Lewis and Clark.  She believes that part of the problem is that people don’t want to prepare for the earthquake because it feels imminent, looming, abstract and out of people’s control.  She told me “if something’s just always there [the potential of a massive earthquake] it’s really hard to motivate people.” She says that generally the people most at risk from hazards are poor overcrowded areas where people don’t know their neighbors well, and may be areas that need more attention.  She believes one of the best things we can do to prepare for people is individual emergency action plans such as storing water.  Even though she thinks educated people and people in power have an obligation to work on broader political problems, the people in the most danger (usually poor and overworked) are not likely to be politically engaged and have a lack of time and resources, and it’s not reasonable to expect that they can.  It’s much more complicated to solve the larger issues that revolve around Earthquake preparation such as income inequality.  She says individuals need to feel that they have actions that are feasible, and agencies want something they can measure.  For this reason, agencies tend to come into a disaster area with an agenda already in mind.  She gives Katrina as a good example, of how income inequality got worse in New Orleans afterward, because agencies determined beforehand where to give aid, and it wasn’t in the communities that needed it most.  She believes that past disasters are good to look back on to learn from for future disasters such as the Cascadia Earthquake.  Overall, she thinks one of the best things people can do is give communities more information on what they can do to help themselves.

AnaCapri Mauro has focused her concentration on hazards, public health and vulnerability, risk perceptions and the implications of hazards, so the issue of the Cascadia earthquake is something she has given a fair share of thought to. AnaCpari stated that she was obsessed with natural disasters (which is apparent in her choice of concentration focus) and that her perceptions of them and the earthquake came from her own readings and research. She understands risks and how to mitigate them and isn’t afraid of the “end of the world” but is rather afraid of how we will react towards disasters and hazards. She works closely alongside Liz Safran, a professor here at Lewis & Clark who teaches Environmental Studies and has a large focus on earthquakes and geological studies, so she is constantly showered with relevant and helpful information about earthquakes and the like.

When asked about what she felt was the biggest priority before AND after the earthquake, she repeatedly mentioned the issue of sanitation. Specifically, the issue of water purification and access to water. Living in Portland, Oregon she knows a fair amount about water source locations and the systems used to purify the water. An area she mentioned as one of concern was the water coming down from the Westside, through Bull Run (which is gravity fed). The main pipe that gets the water across the river SHOULD be okay, but the offshoots will be the ones of biggest concern which give water to millions of homes. Water is one of the biggest necessities for a human being, she says, and it needs to be addressed to ensure that people don’t die of dehydration. She also talked about infrastructure–she feels the infrastructure of Portland will NOT sustain an earthquake like the one Cascadia is proposed to be and that serious attention should be given to that. She made mention of how, in Chile, they’re infrastructure is specifically set up to deal with earthquakes with .8 magnitude due to the frequency of the earthquakes that occur there. They’re up and running after just two weeks because they design their buildings, areas, waterways and homes to sustain impact as such and we should delve deeper into what makes that possible for them and model what we can like theirs.

One last thing she talked about was how she felt that the city was rather unprepared and that education on earthquakes and preparing for them was lacking. She said she felt lucky to have access to such vast and diverse information on earthquakes and natural disasters here at Lewis & Clark and recognizes that is a major privilege, and that she feels lucky to be able to be here. However, she also feels like the earthquake is a serious issue and that people should take the time to learn about it and the potential implications if they can. “Getting involved in your communities local groups and organizations to learn more about what is currently in place to combat hazards is a great way to get informed and be an active participant in your neighborhood,” she says.

As a senior at Lewis & Clark, AnaCapri really seemed to understand the vast implications of an earthquake and seemed prepared for when the ground shakes.


Concept Map: What are the ENVS seniors thinking?



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