Why would anyone not want to save lives of people who are at Salem's City Hall and Library when (not if) the "Big One" earthquake hits?
Citizens need to keep asking it, now that Salem Mayor Anna Peterson's hand-picked Blue Ribbon Task Force on the Police Facility has recommended that seismic upgrades to the Civic Center aren't necessary to pursue right now.
Maybe mañana. Or the day, year, decade, or whatever after that. After all, it's just precious human lives at stake here.
Many thousands of lives have been lost in Nepal recently after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit the region. The Pacific Northwest is prone to periodic Cascadia subduction zone earthquakes which are the largest in the world.
Wikipedia says the risk of a 8.0 magnitude earthquake in the Pacific Northwest could be as high as 37% during the next 50 years. An earthquake of that size would be twice as strong as the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that devastated Nepal.
Twice as strong. Check out the calculator.
Scarily, a much larger subduction zone earthquake could hit us. Like, a 9.0 magnitude quake. Get ready to be shocked if you live around here...
Because a 9.0 magnitude earthquake is a freaking 63 times stronger than a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Imagine the destruction and deaths in Nepal. Then imagine an earthquake 63 times more powerful striking Salem. Which has a 10-14% probability of happening in the next 50 years.
I can't understand why the Mayor, City Council, and other civic leaders in Salem aren't doing everything they can to prevent City Hall and the Library from collapsing in a major earthquake, given the undeniable clear and present danger of this happening.
Oh, no, wait. I do understand.
At least, I've got a pretty damn good hypothesis about why, after seismic upgrades to City Hall and the Library were called for, along with construction of a new police facility, spending $15 million to save lives when a major earthquake hits Salem now has been dropped in the Police Facility task force's final recommendations.
I talked about this in "Why a new Salem police facility could cost many lives."
Disturbingly, at its last meeting the Task Force approved a motion that calls for a single bond measure (amount unknown) for a new police facility. There was no mention of seismic retrofitting of City Hall and the Library.
Do the Task Force members really believe that it is important to save the lives of police department staff when the Big One earthquake hits, but not the lives of other City of Salem employees, along with the lives of anyone visiting City Hall and the Library?
Children. Families. Senior citizens.
Here's the dilemma faced by the Police Facility Task Force, which seems to be the reason it is on track to recommend leaving people at City Hall and the Library at great risk of dying in a major earthquake:
Outraged that saving lives of people who would be at the Library and City Hall when a major earthquake hits these unprepared buildings is a low priority for the Police Facility task force, I gave them an earful at their final meeting a week ago.
I told the task force members that if they try to get Salem voters to approve a public safety bond levy for a new police facility that ignores the need to seismically strengthen City Hall and the Library, I'd strongly oppose that bond -- doing whatever I could to urge citizens to vote against it on moral grounds.
Today, Salem Community Vision, a group I'm proud to be a member of, told the Mayor, City Council, and members of the Police Facility task force pretty much the same thing.
Download SCV seismic press release May 2015 PDF
Here's some excerpts:
Salem Community Vision strongly supports retrofitting buildings at the Civic Center — Library, City Hall, parking structures — to modern seismic standards. This is a must, not a maybe; a do-now, not a sometime-in-the-future. Saving lives when, not if, a major earthquake (the “Big One”) hits has to be a top immediate priority for the City of Salem.
...Two primary reasons have been offered for a new police facility: the inadequacy of the current cramped Police Department headquarters on the ground floor of City Hall, and the near-certainty that the Department will be crushed under a “pancaked” City Hall when the Big One earthquake hits.
If it is imperative that the Police Department be moved out of City Hall because of the likelihood that the building will collapse in a major earthquake, Salem Community Vision believes it is equally important to protect others working at and visiting the Civic Center, including children, families, and the elderly at the Library.
Salem Community Vision opposes any attempt to seek funding for a new police facility that does not include money for seismically retrofitting the Civic Center. This was the original plan of City officials, but seismic strengthening of the Library and City Hall now has been dropped from the recommendations of the Police Facility Task Force, seemingly in an effort to reduce the cost of a bond measure.
This is wrong.
A new police facility can be built for much less than the City’s original plan proposed. Cost savings should come by eliminating unneeded police facility building features, such as underground parking or a parking garage. It also should be properly rather than excessively sized. Doing this will enable a $50 million bond measure to be presented to voters that includes funds for both a new police facility and seismic retrofitting of the Civic Center.
I've closely followed the ins and outs of planning for a new police facility and seismic upgrades to City Hall and the Library. There are 27 HinesSight blog posts on this subject listed on the Salem Community Vision web site.
I haven't heard any good reasons why seismic retrofitting of the Civic Center buildings has to be put off.
A lame excuse was offered at the last Police Facility task force meeting when someone said that moving the Police Department out of City Hall would have to occur before seismic upgrades could be done. Therefore, illogically, this person said a new police facility should be built first, then the seismic upgrades could be done later.
I said illogically, because, duh, of course people working at City Hall and the Library almost certainly would need to be moved out before major structural strengthening of the buildings could occur. City officials have said that this could happen in stages, with certain departments moved into temporary quarters when their part of the building was being seismically strengthened.
Nobody is talking about building a second City Hall to temporarily accommodate employees during a seismic retrofitting process.
Likewise, seismic strengthening of City Hall and the Library could be started before a new police facility is built. If the new police facility isn't ready for occupancy by the time seismic strengthening of the Police Department part of City Hall is scheduled to be done, then find temporary quarters for the Police Department -- just as will be done for other City of Salem staff who work at City Hall.
Anyway, now the saving-lives ball is in the Mayor and City Council's court.
The Police Facility task force has whiffed on recommending seismic upgrades to City Hall and the Library. A Salem Community Vision colleague has warned that this could be viewed as "negligent homicide" if City officials choose to ignore the urgent need to seismically strengthen those buildings and adjacent parking structures.
Strong words. But appropriate, as a metaphor at least. I might go with involuntary manslaughter though, which is bad enough.
To me, and Salem Community Vision, it isn't right to stand by and do nothing when experts are warning that doing nothing in the face of the coming Big One earthquake is the worst thing to do.
Consider the chart next to the Earthquake Timing section of the Wikipedia article about the Cascadia Subduction Zone. The intervals before six "Big One" earthquakes have been studied, the most recent one being in 1700 -- 315 years ago.
Here's the intervals for three of the six: 201 years, 250 years, 330 years.
We're now at 315 years since the last Big One. Why would City officials put off seismic strengthening of City Hall and the Library when there is a good chance the next super-devastating earthquake to hit the Pacific Northwest could strike at any time?
Citizens need to keep asking this of the Mayor and City Council. I sure am glad Salem Community Vision is pressing them on this life-saving question.