AT THE HELM: PREPARED FOR 'THE BIG ONE'

April 25, 2008 11:00 pm

By Scott Graves

Pilot staff writer

The other day I asked my 5-year-old daughter Alia if she knew what a tsunami was.

"Sure!" she said, rather casually. "It's when big waves in the ocean come onto the land and wash the houses and other stuff away."

What causes a tsunami, I asked.

"Earthquakes cause ripples in the ocean that turn into waves," she said.

Her understanding of tsunamis is not surprising – she could say the word tsunami before she was 2. And it was about that age when she first asked about earthquakes, after hearing her parents talking about disaster preparedness.

Last December, when the tsunami sirens went off in the dead of the night and we woke Alia from a deep sleep and left our home for higher ground, she was more curious than scared. It turned out to be a false alarm, but that didn't stop her from asking questions for the next week or so.

Last week, when we found Alia asleep on the living room couch instead of her bed, we told her it was better to stay in bed. Why? Safety, we explained. Her bed is against a windowless wall, while the couch is under a large picture window, which could shatter during an earthquake.

Alia is definitely a child of parents who grew up in earthquake country. Both Jacque and I were born and raised in Southern California. I was 3 years old when the Sylmar quake – magnitude 6.6 on the Richter scale – shook my house in the San Fernando Valley. Since then, I've experienced numerous quakes there, so much so that, after awhile, I wouldn't head for the doorway unless the shaking got stronger or lasted longer than 30 seconds.

I'm not so blaz about earthquakes now that live on the Southern Oregon Coast, which is as likely to rock and roll as Southern California, and is more susceptible to tsunamis. We keep pairs of shoes under the bed.

Down south, I became a pseudo-expert on earthquakes, especially the San Andreas Fault. Now it's the Cascadia Subduction Zone, and particularly the Juan de Fuca Plate, a small piece of crust off the Oregon Coast that is being crushed between the Pacific Plate and North America.

Jacque and I are big fans of earthquake and tsunami TV shows on Discovery and the Science Channel. Alia often sits with us, riveted by the stories and ready with questions.

The recent report of an unusual swarm of earthquakes off the Oregon Coast sent my wife out to the Jeep to check on our 72-hour disaster kit. We have a similar one in our other vehicle and at least a six-month supply of food and water in the house. Jacque added a few things to the kit in her Jeep, and had some extra supplies for the kit in my truck.

When I got home, Alia pointed out the bag of supplies and said, "Here, Dad. Mommy got this stuff for your 72-hour kit; for when the the tsunami comes."

Hear that? She said "when" not "if." Smart girl, and sounding more prepared – mentally and physically – than most people.

The earth has been relatively silent during the nine years we've lived on the Oregon Coast, but we won't let that lull us into a false sense of security.

We have noticed the increase in earthquake- and tsunami-related activities in our corner of the world and that in other places – and we consider them reminders.

We're not paranoid, but we are prepared for what Mother Nature might send our way. And that helps me, and my family, sleep better at night.