Ever since The New Yorker dropped its blockbuster story about the frightening implications of a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, Oregonians have been asking questions about how to prepare for “the very big one.” On Tuesday, November 17, in front of a full house at the White Stag Block, the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC) helped provide some answers.
The SOJC’s “Don’t Wait for the Quake” event, hosted in partnership with Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) and streamed live online and over the radio, convened a timely conversation about earthquake preparedness in Oregon. Just four months ago, Kathryn Schulz’s feature for The New Yorker helped raise public awareness about the likelihood that a catastrophic earthquake will soon rattle the Pacific Northwest. Despite that sobering news, many Oregonians remain woefully underprepared.
As a catalyst for conversation, the forum featured four videos produced by SOJC undergraduate students, each with its own angle on earthquake preparedness and recovery. One video told the story of a community in Nepal that was rebuilding following April’s deadly quake, while another gave practical advice on how to prepare an emergency kit for furry friends.
During each screening, audience members used the engagement platform Harvis to share their emotional responses in real time and to answer questions posed by the moderators. SOJC Assistant Professor Ed Madison, who led the event production, says using Harvis helped transform the multimedia screening experience into something more interactive and dynamic.
“At a normal event, maybe a few people get to come up to the microphone, but there’s no opportunity to get a snapshot of the audience’s general consensus,” Madison says. “For journalists, this was a rare chance to see the emotional impact of their work on all the people watching it.”
Andrew DeVigal, SOJC Chair in Journalism Innovation and Civic Engagement and the creator of Harvis, helped interpret the platform’s data visualizations for the live audience. Following the opening video about Nepal’s quake, DeVigal noted a clear shift in audience reaction as the story pivoted from scenes of destruction to an account of the rebuilding. “In the beginning, there’s a lot of feeling overwhelmed,” he says. “But as we scroll through the storyline, there’s definitely a sense of motivation to act. It says a lot about the storytelling.”
Between video screenings, OPB’s “Think Out Loud” host Dave Miller moderated an insightful panel discussion with three experts: Andrew Phelps, director of Oregon Emergency Management; Chris Goldfinger, a geologist at Oregon State University and one of the world’s foremost experts on subduction zone earthquakes; and T. Aisha Edwards, a licensed therapist in Vancouver, Wash., who specializes in treating patients with post-traumatic stress disorder.
In addition to fielding audience questions about the development of early-warning systems, the location of emergency response shelters, and the reliability of Portland’s bridges, the panelists addressed why it’s so difficult to get Oregonians to start preparing for a quake.
“It takes time for things to seep into people’s consciousness,” Goldfinger says. “At first, people talking about earthquakes in Oregon were treated like we had tinfoil hats on. Then there was a period of acceptance.”
Edwards points out that earthquake preparedness is also often constrained by economic realities. “I’ve worked with folks who don’t even have housing,” she says. “The idea of trying to put together a kit for emergency preparedness is just not realistic.”
In total, more than 160 in-person and online audience members used Harvis to participate in Tuesday’s event, which will re-air on KOPB-TV on Monday, Dec. 14, at 9 p.m.
Madison says the increased exposure for student-produced work is one of several highlights from the collaboration. “I think this project speaks to what’s possible when a journalism school and a media organization like OPB come together,” he says. “For OPB to set aside an hour of primetime coverage really creates some great opportunities for our students — and I’d say we delivered.”
Story by Ben DeJarnette, MA ’15
About the UO School of Journalism and Communication
The University of Oregon the School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC) is one of the first professional journalism schools in the country and an international leader in scholarship and education in advertising, journalism, media studies and public relations. With a student enrollment of 2,200, the SOJC offers doctoral, graduate, and undergraduate degree programs that challenge students to become productive scholars, ethical communicators, critical thinkers, and responsible citizens in a global society. We foster innovative research and prepare students and professionals to navigate the terrain of an evolving media landscape.
About Oregon Public Broadcasting
Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) is the primary television and radio broadcasting network for the state of Oregon. The network’s mission is to give voice to the community, connect Oregon and its neighbors and illuminate a wider world. OPB has been designated the “state primary” for the Emergency Alert System, initiating messages informing other broadcasters, viewers and listeners about a wide variety of emergencies, including tsunamis, floods and Amber Alerts.