Hoping for the Best, Planning for the Worst

Sep 27, 2019

Sometimes life in Portland feels like an overactive game of SimCity. With our recent wildfires and tornadoes, along with the ever-present threat posed by flooding and earthquakes and our vaguely unsettling proximity to multiple volcanoes, you’d be forgiven for half-expecting an alien invasion, too.

The full list of disasters that could potentially befall us highlights the value of being prepared. Fortunately, we’ve got a plan. Multiple plans, actually.

Alex Ubiadas, TriMet’s Emergency Manager, is the main man behind the plans. He ensures we are anticipating emergencies before they happen — and are ready to act once they do.

His latest endeavor was getting TriMet certified as StormReady, making us the first and only mass transit system to do so. Run by the National Weather Service, the StormReady program recognizes communities and organizations that prepare for extreme weather by meeting high standards for communication and emergency planning. 

“It shows to our riders and the region that our system is safe, committed to supporting the community and ready to deal with any storms that may come our way,” says Alex.

“Line 16 Bus on NW Naito Parkway” 📷 Brian Lum

It’s not just storms that TriMet is ready for. TriMet’s Emergency Operations Plan exists so that we can support the community in any disaster. 

“The Emergency Operations Plan is response-based,” Alex says. Response-based means that, even though the type of emergency or what we have available in our fleet might vary, we have a plan to respond with whatever is available, wherever it is needed.

“It’s ‘all-hazards’,” Alex adds. “It considers the whole variety of possible natural or human-caused disasters that can plausibly affect TriMet’s ability to operate.”

We’ve already used the Emergency Operations Plan to respond to emergencies, like the gas explosion near NW 23rd and the Eagle Creek Fire. It would also be used in the event of a major emergency that affects the entire Portland metro area, such as a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake. 

By having a system in place to determine our resources and where to use them, we’re able to contribute to city- or region-wide plans.

“We have worked with the City of Portland in particular in 2018 to develop a Transportation Recovery Plan, and it talks about just that type of scenario: what are our capabilities and limitations, along with how are we coordinating with our other stakeholder partners to make sure that everything is going smoothly overall.”

“Division Heights at Sunset” 📷 Brian Lum

The Regional Disaster Preparedness Organization is another example of how TriMet has taken an active role with community emergency planning. TriMet is a founding member, and this year, the organization began updating the region’s Emergency Transportation Routes based on the latest seismic research by Oregon’s Department of Geology and Mineral Industries.

“I’m representing TriMet on the project. However, that doesn’t mean that I’m doing it in a vacuum,” Alex explains. “As things come up, I will go to subject-matter experts, like when it comes to scheduling or routing, I go to those folks within the transportation division.”

Alex is no stranger to tapping others’ knowledge when it comes to making emergency plans, and he recommends you do the same: “Wherever you live, check out your jurisdiction’s emergency management agency or department. They’re going to have the most relevant information for where you live, because their role is to do emergency planning for your community.”

September is National Preparedness Month, and as part of that, Alex also recommends going to ready.gov/september for more info on how to plan for emergencies now and throughout the year.

Alyssa Flynn

Alyssa Flynn


Spends her free time reading and going to bar trivia, and gets her best ideas while riding the bus.

flynna@trimet.org | All posts

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