Expert Discusses Earthquake Hazards

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By Steven Sandberg

ASHLAND, Ore – As SOU Geology professor Charles Lane walks around the Ashland Plaza, he pauses by what appears to be a nondescript brick wall and runs his fingers along the masonry.

“When you look at the buildings downtown, if you look for this, you’ll start to see this,” he says to us, pointing to a line of flat bricks that stitches across the wall. “This is what passed at the time for reinforcing the structure.”

In the event of an earthquake, Lane says standing by this old wall is the wrong place to be.

“This thing basically crumbles and falls right down.”

Lane is taking us on a walking tour of some of Ashland’s most earthquake-vulnerable buildings, of which he says there are plenty.

This past summer, Lane made a presentation entitled “Ashland’s Seismic Risks,” in which he detailed what kinds of buildings could suffer major damage during an earthquake.

Those included older buildings and well-known spots like the Ashland Springs Hotel and buildings along the Ashland Plaza. Anything built of un-reinforced masonry, like many older brick buildings, are at risk of collapse in a quake.

We pause again at a brick staircase on the back side of the plaza.

“Once you start shaking this and snapping it violently with ground motion, this is exactly the sort of thing that would just crumble into a pile,” he says.

We aren’t the only ones looking closely at the risks. Ashland City Leaders recently created a program called “Ashland is Ready,” designed to give information about the potential damage an earthquake can cause to the Rogue Valley and what people can do to protect themselves.

Another presenter in that program was city building inspector Mike Grubbs, who warned that more work needs to be done to protect both public buildings and homes.

“I’m just extremely worried the big one’s coming and we have to be prepared,” he said. “And we’re working hard to become prepared, although we have a long way to go.”

A major concern for Grubbs is just down the street from his office. The Ashland City Hall was built in the early 1900s, and Grubbs said it is made up of unreinforced masonry, which makes it especially at risk in an earthquake.

But it’s not all bad for city-owned buildings. Both fire stations were built to the current earthquake standards, and SOU’s Churchill Hall recently went through a seismic retrofit. Still, Grubbs said there’s plenty more work to be done.

“Probably every building could use some attention,” he said.

In addition, homes built before the 1960s were likely not bolted to their foundations, Grubbs said. In an earthquake, the shaking ground could potentially knock some homes off their foundations. Grubbs estimates about 3,000 homes in Ashland are not up to the current code, and said it costs about $3,000 to bolt a home to its foundation.

Geologists are concerned that the Pacific Northwest is due for a major earthquake originating from the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the Pacific Coast. Lane warns that even an earthquake miles off the coastline could still cause damage inland all the way to the Rogue Valley.

“If you had a six-point earthquake go off right here,” he says, pointing to the ground beneath our feet at the Ashland Plaza, “then the energy would be sufficient. What the geologists are worried about now is that an eight or nine point quake off the coast could give the same amount of energy here as a six point would.”

Fire officials said people should keep a 72-hour emergency kit on hand, including food, water, medication and important documents, in case of a natural disaster or other emergency. More information can be found here.