Mapping Destruction: City Releases Locations of Portland Hazards

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Yesterday, the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management (PBEM), our city-run bulwark against catastrophe, released a series of maps revealing Portland’s many hazards. Listed are floodplains, wildfire areas, local fault lines—you name it. PBEM’s maps also list evacuation routes, helicopter landing spots, hospitals, and fire stations. Well that’s reassuring...but wait!

The maps also list a number of buildings that are expected to collapse in a major earthquake. Called unreinforced masonry buildings or (URMs), these are your typical brick buildings. And it’s generally agreed these babies are killers in major quakes. Because we are supposed to get a really big earthquake that will basically destroy Portland as we know it, it might be worthwhile to take a moment right now to familiarize yourself with where these killers are (let’s face it, you won’t be surfing the web looking for them with the power and telecommunications out).

On the PBEM maps, URMs are depicted as blue dots. If you want a good scare—or would otherwise like to join the legion of earthquake paranoids, myself included—take a look at all the blue dots in downtown Portland. Yeah, that’s right, there’s a lot of buildings that ain't gonna make it through the shaking.

If you’re like me, you looked immediately for your home. And if you’re like me, you didn’t find it. In which case you were probably all self-assured and like, “I’m not going to die, losers!” Well, not so fast. As they say, the map is not the territory.

Not included on the PBEM maps are other dangerous buildings: nonductile concrete buildings. These include some schools, department stores, etc built from about the 1930s to the 1970s, and unfortunately there are also a lot of these in the Portland metro area.

Of course, I’m going to pretend because I don’t see my apartment building marked that some how the place I call home—which was built in the 1920s mind you, has had no seismic work done to it, and shakes violently every time my upstairs neighbor walks across his floor/ my ceiling—is somehow safe. Okay, that’s a really shitty idea. And kudos to the city for starting to map our destruction.

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