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We're overdue for a big shakeup

In case you missed it, Monday was the anniversary of a major event in Pacific Northwest history. Don't feel bad if you let it slip by; it happened on Jan. 26, 1700, before European settlers came to this region. As a result, there is no written record of it here.

There is a written record in Japan, however. That was the year a tsunami swept in from the Pacific Ocean and destroyed the country's rice harvest that had been stored in warehouses.

We speak of the Great Cascadia Earthquake. Like the one that destroyed the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, it was a subduction zone quake, the most severe kind. A subduction zone is where one tectonic plate of the earth's crust dives beneath another very, very slowly. Over the centuries, pressure builds until it is released in a rapid movement of the earth.

The Cascadia Subduction Zone is responsible for the string of volcanoes making up the Cascade mountains, including Mount Mazama, which erupted and collapsed into itself about 7,500 years ago, and Mount St. Helens, which erupted in 1980.

Geologists say the next big quake could happen here at any time and may, in fact, be overdue. Oregon State University researchers estimate there is a 40 percent chance the big one could happen in the next 50 years. That means it could be 60 years away or longer. It also means it could happen tomorrow.

Nothing we do can prevent it. All we can do is prepare. Emergency management officials recommend stockpiling food and water and preparing to live without utilities or roads for some time.

The Oregon Office of Emergency Management has issued a publication, available at http://1.usa.gov/1y0Cu4j, on what people can do to prepare. The website http://Ready.gov also has helpful advice for all kinds of emergencies.

The city of Medford's efforts to establish a Community Emergency Response Team are part of the preparation as well.

It may be tempting to shrug this off as alarmist; after all, California is where earthquakes happen, right? Right. And they happen here, too. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when.