What if? Ice storms, earthquakes pose real danger to Eugene

EUGENE, Ore. - The region got a taste of the problem last December and February.

Severe snow and ice storms put thousands of Lane County residents in the dark, some for the better part of a week, amidst record cold temperatures.

But what if the power outage last longer, after a more intense storm - or a massive Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake?

"What are the risks out there?" said Lance Robertson with the Eugene Water and Electric Board. "How might it impact not just electricity and water but transportation?

Eugene City Councilors and EWEB commissioners are busy on joint planning for possible disaster.

A new climate and hazards vulnerability survey found that both severe earthquakes and severe winter storms have the potential to cause region-wide failures of the underpinnings of civilization.

"What we need to do is do our work ahead of time, to make sure that we have procedures, policies, adequate funds in place," said Roger Gray, EWEB general manager.

Robertson said it's good that the critical planning is going on right now, both for electrical and for the water system.

The biggest "what if?" is that megaquake on the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

For example: What if landslides or earthquakes blocked the McKenzie River?

It would leave roughly 200,000 EWEB customers without running water.

The utility is still working on planning for a backup water plant.

"We're on a path right now to develop that source and have it operational by 2020 or 2021," Robertson said.

EWEB said that, depending on the disaster, the electric grid could go down for as long as 2 months.

Past Northwest Disasters: The Columbus Day Storm | Great Alaska Earthquake