Is Portland ready for a major earthquake?

Is Portland ready for a major earthquake? »Play Video

PORTLAND, Ore. -- PSU geology professor Scott Burns can't stress it enough: Get ready, because the big one is coming.

Why is he so sure? It's because of what lies beneath the ocean just off the Oregon Coast.

"What we call a triple conjunction, where three plates come together. It is earthquake country," Burns said.

So how prepared are we? Burns gives the city an overall "B-minus" when it comes to emergency services. That covers how effective police, fire and rescue crews will be in the initial hours after the quake.

But when it comes to infrastructure, it's a different story. Burns gives us an overall grade of a "D." Topping his list of concerns is the Interstate 5 bridge that crosses over the Columbia River and connects Portland and Vancouver. He says one powerful quake could knock down the entire bridge.

Another big area of concern, massive gasoline and diesel storage tanks in the St. Johns area. Burns says an earthquake big enough could destroy them, leaving Portland without fuel needed to rebuild after the earthquake.

City leaders admit we are behind.
City Commissioner Steve Novick heads up Portland's Bureau of Emergency Management. He says Portland has a lot of work to do but says the city is making progress.

His team finally created a new disaster response plan in December, something other cities our size have had in place for years.

But Novick says residents need to do their part also. He worries about the 100,000 homes that haven't been retrofitted for an earthquake and worries if the big one hits it could have a lasting impact.

"You know what happened in New Orleans with Katrina? A lot of people left and never came back. If your house is gone, I think you are more likely to leave and never come back then if your house survives," he said.