Eathquake musings

Let’s Not Just Shoot the Messenger, Let’s Eliminate them Permanently.

with 7 comments

Japan Otsuchi - Folgen von Erdbeben/Tsunami

Oregon seems to have lost it’s way. From the early 1990’s to 2017 Oregon was a leader in forward thinking about the earthquake and tsunami issue we face in Cascadia. No longer. The legislative Coastal Caucus and the Governors office have been busily undermining public safety in the State for the last several years. In previous blogs I outlined previous steps, which included funding the OSU Marine Studies building in the Yaquina Bay tsunami zone to “Demonstrate” that this was possible, and even a good idea (it’s not). This was the first step in promoting commercial development in tsunami zones, and the first step in reversing the good work done in previous years by DOGAMI, the State Geologic Survey. The Legislature then refused to adopt the new tsunami modeling done by DOGAMI in 2008-2013, the state of the art, and the best in the country. The new modeling made it more difficult to develop the coast, so they just ignored it. Another step was HB 3309, removal of the “tsunami Line” established by DOGAMI in 1992 that prohibited building of critical infrastructure in the tsunami zone. The next step was to try to replace that line with unpublished, poor quality ASCE tsunami modeling inserted into the building codes. Fortunately, this failed and the existing models were retained, for now, leaving DOGAMI the relevant authority with respect to development in tsunami zones. Then in 2020 the Coastal Caucus then tried to overturn this Building Codes decision by appointing the legislature as the experts, and inserting this nonsense into law. That also failed due to the legislative session collapse in 2020. Another more subtle move to undermine the science underpinnings to public safety involved appointment of an engineer as the chair of OSSPAC (Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Council). This sounds harmless enough, but because OSSPAC no longer had any science representation due the DOGAMI cuts, had the effect of supporting the replacement of good science with the unpublished and untested ASCE “science”. Not coincidentally, the OSSPAC chair began unilaterally writing legislation to accomplish this, working directly with the Coastal Caucus, a clear conflict of interest favoring developers (see previous posts). Temporarily thwarted, the DOGAMI budget was chopped in the summer of 2020, eliminating a key position and a dedicated career senior employee in earthquake engineering and resiliency. No good deed goes unpunished.

But DOGAMI still stood in the way of special interests. Chopping one position was not enough. In one of the most cynical moves I’ve seen, the Governor of Oregon, Kate Brown has used the pandemic budget shortfall, to simply eliminate DOGAMI altogether. Yes, that’s the thing, don’t just shoot the messenger, eliminate their job. I guess it’s safe to say I’m not a fan of politicians, but this takes the cake. The plan is that DOGAMI will cease to exist, and the few remaining employees will be sprinkled into other agencies, some reportedly to the Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD). This would remove any semblance of science from the issue of earthquake/tsunami public policy and safety in Oregon. DLCD is not a science agency, and has no influence in this realm, though they have done some excellent work in related land-use policy. Any influence DLCD might retain can then be eliminated easily by the Governor or the legislature. Current DOGAMI employees have been ordered not to speak to anyone about this or face firing, a dead giveaway of an autocrat at work against the public interest.

The State is under a ton of budget pressure stemming from the bungling of the pandemic response at the Federal level, and so is looking to make cuts. However, DOGAMI raises much of it’s own money through mining permits and grant writing, so the move would save only ~ 3M, chump change even for Oregon. So with the State and the region facing a much bigger future disaster, does it make sense to save money in that way? Of course not. So this isn’t about cost savings, this is about a sustained attack on science. Normally we’re used to such attacks from one side of the aisle, but this one is from a Democratic Governor and mostly Democratic coastal caucus. In any case, it represents the position of the Governor that we should toss the science (and wreck the careers of dedicated scientists as well), stick our heads in the sand and hope the Big One doesn’t happen any time soon.

Come on Oregon, we have to better than this sort of science denying nonsense. Please contact your legislators, Governor Kate Brown and the State Resilience Officer Mike Harryman to express your views.

Governors Office: (503) 378-4582 They don’t publish their email addresses, but you can use this form. Calls are much more effective.

Mike Harryman: 503-378-6549

Written by eqgold

January 5, 2021 at 10:57 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

7 Responses

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  1. Chris, have you sent this to the Oregonian?


    Carol S Hasenberg

    January 24, 2021 at 2:41 pm

    • Yes, they were too busy. OPB also, we’ll see…



      January 24, 2021 at 2:51 pm

      • What about Willamette Week?


        Carol S Hasenberg

        January 25, 2021 at 9:42 am

  2. The situation is analogous to the biblical story of Jeremiah. His forecasting of Jerusalem’s imminent demise was not well received by the courtiers, who then proceeded to silence the messenger by having him lowered into a disused muddy well. They mischaracterized J’s intent by claiming “this man is not seeking the well-being of these people, but their ruin”. No, that was not his intent!
    DOGAMI has been a nationally recognized leader in the study of natural hazards and their potential impacts, including landslides, tsunamis, and earthquakes. Despite the lack of legislative support, the talented and engaged staff continue to work hard delivering practical information and data, working with city, county, and state planners, along with the public, in order “to make Oregon safe and prosperous” (quoting from DOGAMI’s mission statement). Lowering the agency into the well will not make the natural hazards go away. It will leave Oregonians less informed. (F.D. I was a staff member at DOGAMI, retiring in 2019).

    Liked by 1 person

    John Bauer

    January 7, 2021 at 4:39 pm

  3. Thank you Chris for bringing this to our attention and for your pro-public safety and pro-science message. It’s not clear to me Dogami’s role in educating citizens living in and around tsunami hazard zones. It seems that there are no shortage of people willing to take the risk of living and working in a tsunami zone, even if they know the statistics.

    It would be interesting to do a survey of people living on the coast to see how many are knowledgeable about, and also concerned about, a subduction zone earthquake and tsunami. I would imagine that those who are really worried about it may have moved out already, or avoided going there in the first place.

    Humans have a very hard time dealing with very infrequent hazards. How quickly they happen, but how quickly we forget. The probability used (e.g., a 30% chance in the next 50 years) is very hard for someone to fully comprehend, even if trained in science.

    We know that it’s going to happen sometime; we manage the risk by denying it, avoiding thinking about it, or just hoping it won’t happen when we’re around. I would like to get your thoughts on this.


    Jeff Reimer

    January 6, 2021 at 7:32 pm

    • Thanks for your thoughts on this. DOGAMI has played an important role in education, first by creating high-quality tsunami inundation maps, distributing them free, and taking this information on the road in many venues. But changing peoples behavior is difficult, and there will always be those who disregard the best information. This is why society adopts certain rules for the good of all, speed limits, stop signs etc. Tsunami land-use policies are exactly that, stop signs for those who might not get it. Dealing with it that way is best imho, at the State level, not at the town or county level. That way, it’s just like traffic laws, it’s uniform, and applied the same way everywhere. It also takes the pontificating about whether to ignore rare events off the table of daily life, and leaves such worries in the hands of the experts.



      January 6, 2021 at 7:43 pm

      • Your analogy to traffic laws makes a lot of sense. As a society we somehow agreed at a high level to limit speed on highways, wear seat belts, and to install stop signs, etc. No one really complains about these anymore and we’re all better off.

        But each person has their own tolerance for risk, and some might be happy to get rid of all traffic laws.

        That’s essentially what we’ve done by tolerating development in tsunami zones (and in other coastal areas likely to be inundated by rising oceans in the coming decades). it’s a boon to the risk taker, but someday we’re all going to get a nasty surprise and pay the price.

        I do appreciate the tsunami hazard signs sprinkled around some coastal areas, and I know DOGAMi has done a tremendous amount of work to provide that information. I hope that state leaders can find a way to preserve it.


        Jeff Reimer

        January 7, 2021 at 11:29 am

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