Monday, April 4, 2016

Stuck with Posters and Slogans for Earthquake

Earlier in the week did you see the piece in the paper's "Holding Court" feature about the "Cascadia: Oregon's Greatest Natural Threat" series co-sponsored by SEDCOR?

Posters and catastrophe at Holding Court
The posters read:
  • Food and Water
  • Transportation
  • Energy
SECOR writes:
Could your business survive without electricity for 3 months? Experts agree that a major earthquake would likely cause critical services, like drinking water and sewer, and top-priority highways, to be down for up to a year. While there’s much to do to improve the reliability of basic services, the government can’t do it all. Every company needs to be prepared for the impacts of a severe outage of critical lifelines--fuel, transportation, utilities, communications, water and sewer--as well as the potential loss of data....

This series will give you the tools you need to not only prepare your business for disaster recovery, but to play a critical role in helping the community recover from catastrophe.

Business leaders engaged in the state’s disaster planning efforts have indicated that in a major disaster, interruptions of infrastructure lasting longer than two weeks will put their enterprises at risk. We can expect some interruptions to last much longer...even up to 36 months or more. Business leaders need to prepare their facilities, IT and data, and their valuable human resources now in order to be ready for a major catastrophe.
At first it seemed the series was a good idea and was pretty neutral, but now that they've had several presentations over the course of a few months, it seems possible that there is a politics here, as well.

One, unfortunately, that dovetails with the way the City is handling the Police Station debate and the Chamber's position on transit.

The message? You're on your own.

Water and sewer, energy, and transportation all are supplied by markets and infrastructure that have key roles for government. Big Government, even. These are core parts of civilization that the unregulated private sector has been and may always be ill-equipped to handle in just and equitable and big-enough ways. Even when energy is supplied by the private sector, it is heavily regulated. There's a role for government here.

You'd think that a series about the earthquake would get around to the idea of needing to make public investment in resilient and reinforced infrastructure. Even if it started from a perspective of personal preparedness, you'd think it would then zoom out for the bigger picture.
Experts agree that a major earthquake would likely cause critical services, like drinking water and sewer, and top-priority highways, to be down for up to a year...the government can't do it all.
But as a community we can ask the government to do more, can't we? Wouldn't it make sense to invest in things so they are down for much less time than a full year? So there is much less loss of life and suffering?

Clean water and poop management is going to be a problem, so in addition to asking people to keep a supply of drinking water on hand, there would be talk about the need to invest in our sewer system and our water purification and delivery system.

Bridges are going to collapse, so in addition to having your personal stash of gasoline and medicine, we need to invest in retrofits for key bridges across rivers and creeks.

And so on.

But the presentations have been mainly about preparing for the glorified camping adventure, the minor apocalypse. In spirit they are private and prepper rather than public.

So maybe it's not so mystifying after all that the idea of reinforcing the Library and City Hall at the same time we construct a new Police Station has not attracted more support on Council.

You're on your own.

When we overinvest and overbuild things like a Third Bridge, too many new fire stations, parking garages that sit half empty even at peak hours, highway-style intersections for city streets that are desolate at off-peak hours, then we are stuck with posters and slogans for earthquakes.

11,000 square feet currently mothballed
Fire Station 11 (Mackenzie architects)
Tonight City Council meets in a work session to talk about the Police Station project. Over at SCV they have a lot more to say. At the moment, though, we'll point out that next week Council will be talking about downtown urban renewal and the possibility of investing in redevelopment at a few downtown sites, mainly the Belluschi bank at Chemeketa and Liberty, and the Marion Car Park at Ferry and Commercial. (And more here.)

Work Session staff report and City summary of the URA
The idea of using $6 million in urban renewal funds for buying the O'Brien property is a lousy use for urban renewal funding. If the goal of urban renewal is increasing property values and increasing the assessed valuation of property, applying urban renewal funds to property that will be taken off the tax rolls, and therefore will reduce the total assessed value of property, is pretty close to an outright contradiction.

If we are going to be using urban renewal funding for a large project, we should make sure that it has a realistic probability of increasing the assessed value of property. Helping out on a commercial redevelopment does that. A new police station probably does not.



Anonymous said...

Agree the message is you're on your own. And the assumption in all the materials/lists/advice I've read is that you live in a house, have storage space, and a place to "camp" (if not in your house, then your yard). There is nothing for multifamily/multi-story, and when I asked Red Cross or whoever, they just say to do what you can on a more limited (3-day basis). They don't even think who they might be terrifying with their 3-6 weeks on-your-own message, or maybe they think us poor, dumb folk who live in multifamily don't listen to public safety messaging or something, cause we're too dumb/irresponsible to want to be able to take care of our families in a disaster. Fine. We get the message. We'll just swarm the nice neighborhoods when our 3-day supply runs out, assuming we've not been crushed.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Just a note that the Kathryn Schulz won a Pulitzer for her story on the quake. It is possible that readers outside of the West Coast are actually taking it more seriously than we are.