Catastrophic death tolls, billions of dollars in damage and impact to nearly 140,000 square miles was the picture painted by an article in The New Yorker. Published in July 2015, “The Really Big One” outlined threats of a super earthquake and subsequent tsunami that would destroy Oregon and Washington. In the weeks that followed, the story went viral and received every kind of media attention, from local papers to Fox News.
Most people in the Northwest knew the risks, says Ali Ryan, an earth science information officer with the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries. The group researches the Cascadia Fault, which would be the origin point “quakenami.” But the national coverage opened the conversation up to people across the country.
Brian Houston, a professor at the University of Missouri studying the way media frames disasters, said all the chatter makes The New Yorker’s story constructive.
“People in the U.S. love writing and making movies about disasters, but when it comes down to dealing with the risk, they are woefully unprepared,” Houston said.
While the stories recognized a valid threat, it remains to be seen whether the media hype came early enough to spur defensive action.
Courtney Gerard is an environmental journalism graduate student at the University of Montana. When she isn’t writing you will find her running, playing in rivers or exploring one of Montana’s many mountain ranges.