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Daily News editorial

Editor’s note: Today’s editorial originally appeared in The (Eugene, Ore.) Register Guard. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.

There’s been a whole lot of rocking and rolling along the Pacific Coast lately, some of it coming from the Oregon Capitol.

The former is the slew of earthquakes happening on a daily basis along the West Coast, primarily in California but also farther north. The latter is the Oregon Legislature’s illogical decision to allow construction of public buildings in tsunami zones and, perversely, to not help fund development of the earthquake warning system known as ShakeAlert.

For whatever reason, this year’s Legislature had an erratic attitude toward seismic safety. It approved millions of dollars for seismic retrofits of schools and other public buildings but not for the ShakeAlert earthquake early warning network being deployed along the West Coast.

ShakeAlert is a collaboration among the federal government, University of Oregon and other partners. The system is designed to give a few seconds to two minutes of warning about a major earthquake, which could be enough time to safely exit an unreinforced masonry building, close traffic bridges or slow high-speed trains. However, Oregon lags behind Washington and especially California in having sensors installed and making the system useable for the public.

Meanwhile, some Oregon lawmakers are having belated second thoughts about their votes to repeal a 1995 law that restricted construction of hospitals, jails, police and fire stations, schools and other essential public facilities in tsunami zones.

The Legislature even slapped the hands of the agency that had been responsible for determining those tsunami zones. The state Department of Geology and Mineral Industries — known as DOGAMI — didn’t help itself by overspending its budget twice in the past four years while failing to meet its performance goals. But we can’t help but wonder whether politics is as much to blame as finances in the Legislature’s directives to reduce agency staffing and require the governor to analyze whether DOGAMI should continue as an independent agency.

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The potential abolishment of DOGAMI made national news. So did the demise of Oregon’s reasonable prohibitions on public facilities in tsunami zones.

Four years ago, Kathryn Schulz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning article in The New Yorker startled Americans — including some Oregonians — by revealing that the West Coast was ripe for The Big One. The piece included this quote from a FEMA official: “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.”

Schulz followed up this month, reporting that HB 3309, passed overwhelmingly by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Kate Brown, “makes it perfectly legal to use public funds to place vulnerable populations — together with the people professionally charged with responding to emergencies and saving lives — in one of the riskiest places on earth.”

The old law did not ban private development in tsunami zones, but coastal legislators said it harmed homeowners and hampered economic development by restricting where emergency service buildings and schools could be located.

That was the point. Keep children out of harm’s way. Situate first responders in safe places so they can respond.

Thank goodness that common sense and logic still exist somewhere. The city of Florence has adopted similar prohibitions to ones in the old state law. As of Jan. 1, 2020, when the new law takes effect, communities will be on their own to make those decisions.

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