Bend-Redmond Preps To Become Primary Response Center For After Cascadia Earthquake

Jan 30, 2020

The Cascadia Playbook is a state government blueprint for responding to a major earthquake that could kill up to 25,000 people in the Pacific Northwest. 

The document designates the Bend-Redmond area as an emergency base of operations.

In our ongoing series on Oregon’s Natural Resources and Resilience – funded by the University of Oregon’s Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics – KLCC’s Brian Bull visits Central Oregon which will be front and center after such a disaster.

A C-130 Hercules swirls clouds in its wake. This aircraft and the C-17 Globemaster are the likeliest heavy transport planes that'll respond to a Cascadia event hitting the Pacific Northwest.
Credit U.S. Coast Guard / Flickr.com

I began with the Deschutes County Fairgrounds and Expo Center. The facility and neighboring Redmond Airport are both expected to serve as major staging areas for relief and rescue operations after a major Cascadian event, namely a 9.0 magnitude earthquake.

Main entrance to Deschutes County Fairgrounds and Expo Center, adjacent to Redmond Airport.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

“Our operating assumption is most of the infrastructure we rely on today will not be accessible to us if you’re in the Valley or on the Coast following a Cascadia earthquake,” says Andrew Phelps, Director of Oregon’s Office of Emergency Management.  This includes cell phone reception, intact roads and bridges, and power, sewer, and water.

Phelps tells KLCC that Central Oregon will have infrastructure, personnel, and facilities unaffected by a major quake.

Zachary Bass, Director of the Redmond Airport.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

“The Oregon Office of Emergency Management is part of the Oregon Military Department, so we have access to the Youth Challenge Facility out there near Bend.  Redmond Airport is a tremendous facility.

"All of those things combined with really a perfect opportunity for us to have that one central hub, to bring resources in from, really all over the country.”

Where's Bigfoot off to in such a rush?
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

At the Redmond Airport, people line up near a suitcase-dragging Sasquatch statue to board a jet on this busy Friday morning. Airport Director Zachary Bass says $100 million has been poured into the airport, to expand the terminal and bolster both runways.  And there’ll be a similar investment over the next decade, which will include expanding the main runway by 3,000 feet.

“We’re using mostly federal money through the FAA for most of these projects,” says Bass. “That money’s coming because of the growth we’re seeing in commercial traffic."

The Redmond Airport sees 30 commercial flights daily, and has some major airlines using it including Delta, American, and Alaskan.

A Delta Airlines jet prepares to taxi out at Redmond Airport.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

“We have had FEMA come out to do some studies, where to park C-17s, how many, what hangar space can be utilized,” adds Bass.

Large aircraft such as the C-17 and C-130 will be the workhorses in transporting relief aid and materials to disaster-hit areas of the Pacific Northwest. There’s also what’s called the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center here, used primarily for wildfire operations but easily repurposed for a post-Cascadian disaster.

Following a major earthquake, residents can expect to see C-17 Globemasters take to the skies from Redmond Airport. They will transport aid, supplies, and personnel to the more affected parts of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, namely the coast and communities west of the I-5 Corridor.
Credit U.S. Air Force / Flickr.com

“The fairgrounds is this round part, then all of this area just to the east of it is all graveled, flat lots that normally they use for RV shows,” says Redmond Mayor George Endicott.  He’s pointing to a large map that shows how the immediate region will accommodate cargo planes, vehicles, and survivors.

“For the Fairgrounds, the proper has been designated as a refugee site.  So you know, they could hold…I think they said about 25,000 people with a tent city there.”

Endicott adds that estimates of refugees fleeing devastation west of the I-5 corridor could actually range between 100,000 to 1,000,000.  He encourages all mayors in Central and Eastern Oregon to prepare for the onslaught, which will tax necessities such as shelter and water.

Redmond Mayor George Endicott shows the extent of land that could be used for planes, trucks, fuel, and refugee camps around his city.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

“You just can’t plan for something like this, ultimately,” says Mayor Endicott. “Redmond will have water, Redmond will have sewer. 

“And when people are desperate and they know there’s water here, they’re gonna try to come here.”

Outside the Redmond Airport, engineer Fred LeLacheur drives around and points out facilities that are flagged for potential use in disaster response.  Some may be expanded or upgraded, depending on funds. 

Redmond Airport Engineer Fred LeLacheur drives through areas of the facility that can be used for Cascadia relief and response operations.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

“Off to the sharp right here you can see…city-owned fuel tanks.  Two 20,000 gallons and one 10,000 gallon I believe…”

LeLacheur says one major need will be for aircraft and jet fuel, as coastal ports will likely be knocked out by tsunamis.

“We don’t want to be dependent on having fuel being trucked in which a lot of it comes from that area where that Cascadian event’s going to happen!  So if we had a pretty good stockpile of fuel here, obviously it’d really benefit in a Cascadia event.”

LeLacheur says Redmond officials are exploring funding options for more improvements, while there’s still time.

The Bend-Redmond area is not only well-situated logistically…it’s also well-situated geologically. 

“The subduction zone fault runs 50 to 80 miles off the Oregon Coast.  As you get further and further away from the fault, the shaking diminishes, explains Ian Madin, senior scientist and earthquake hazard geologist with the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries.

The Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center is frequently used for wildfire control operations, but could be readily switched to a Cascadia response, say Redmond officials.
Credit Brian Bull / KLCC

“By the time you get to Bend, you’re 180 miles away from the fault. Everybody will know that it’s happened, they’ll feel it.  But it just won’t be strong enough to break things.”

But Madin adds that doesn’t mean Central Oregon isn’t in the clear.  

A U.S. Geological Survey interactive map shows faults in the Sisters, Oregon area.
Credit USGS

“There’s a whole family of crustal faults called the Sisters Fault zone, and the Metolius Fault zone that extend from Newberry Volcano all the way up to Mt. Jefferson, and run right through downtown Bend. 

“That is a potential source of pretty substantial earthquakes that would have far greater impact on Central Oregon communities than the Cascadia Subduction Zone.”

Madin says scientists currently know “next to nothing” how frequent and powerful an earthquake caused by those faults would be…driving the need for more research, and preparations.

Copyright 2020, KLCC.