Earthquake risk: 'We have to evacuate this building'

Earthquake risk: 'We have to evacuate this building' »Play Video
Cracks in the facade of Eugene's City Hall

EUGENE, Ore. - A quick remark about Eugene City Hall drew chuckles at an afternoon meeting this week.

"We have to evacuate this building," Councilor Chris Pryor said. "I use the word evacuate instead of vacate."

But not everyone is laughing.

"I really felt actually a real huge responsibility about the people who are in this building when we acknowledge it doesn't even meet the most basic of safety standards," Mayor Kitty Piercy said.

The earthquake and tsunamis in Japan are giving public officials across Lane County a new sense of urgency.

"Today I have an extra sensitivity given that what we've seen happen in this world," Piercy said.

According to a 2007 state survey, five Eugene 4J schools, three Bethel schools, several fire stations and Eugene's City Hall were all deemed to be at high risk if the big one were to strike.

"The reality is that if we were to have an earthquake in Lane County, it would be a major one," said Lina Cook, Lane County Emergency Services Director.

During the 2007 survey, geologists drove by public buildings to rate them. Those with more than a 10 percent chance of collapsing during a massive quake were marked as high risk. 

"It could be there would be they would all just fall over and collapse and kill people inside or that there would just be a lot of bricks coming down," said Robert Yates, Oregon State professor emeritus and an expert on earthquake geology.

KVAL News checked on those same high risk structures.

Neither Lane Community College nor Eugene 4J responded, but officials said none of the fire stations or the Bethel schools had been retrofitted to withstand an earthquake.

Yates said that's a scary thought because there could be smaller faults in Lane County that geologists haven't yet discovered.

"We can do one of two things," he said. "We can spend the money, detailed geophysical work to try to look for the faults in advance, or we could assume they're there and make sure our buildings are retrofitted accordingly."