It's only a matter of time before a massive, long-overdue, catastrophic earthquake stomps all over Portland's skyscrapers, highways, and bridges. But let's say you make out okay, and your house or apartment is one of the lucky ones that doesn't buckle or collapse. Would you know where to go for food? For water? Medical care? Hell, even for basic information about what's happened?(Because let's be honest; you probably don't have a hand-cranked radio handy.)

Roughly, a Basic Earthquake Emergency Communication Node.
Portland's Bureau of Emergency Management might have an answer. It might even be in your mailbox right now. Emergency planners are spreading the word about a hoped-for network 48 stations called Basic Earthquake Emergency Communication Nodes, aka BEECNs (yes, pronounced like the word "beacon"). Postcards mapping all 48 locations should be hitting every home in the city, advertising the BEECNs as places where you can meet up with city-trained volunteers and find supplies like tents and medicine and radios and first-aid kits. (There's also an app.)

I happened across PBEM's media roll-out yesterday while haunting city hall for council coverage; they'd set up outside the city council chambers ahead of a vote that cements Oregon Public Broadcasting as the city's official outlet for emergency broadcasts. And I came away intrigued enough, after looking over the shiny and serious-looking sample station, that I went to the bureau's website and used a form to enter both my home and work addresses to figure out the closest BEECN to each one. (St. Johns Park and the Fields park, respectively.)

One big caveat: The success of the stations relies on the city's Neighborhood Emergency Teams—and there have been concerns about that program raised by the very volunteers who make it up. The BEECNs also won't work if they're planned for locations that won't flood, crumble, or wind up buried—and can also handle a large crowd of desperate and wounded Portlanders.

As such, most are in parks and fields, says PBEM's director, Carmen Merlo. Some people will have to slog a long, long way to get to one, especially in the West Hills or in parts of Northeast Portland.

What we really need to survive an earthquake is money. Real money and real urgency for prevention and seismic work. But that might be an unwinnable political fight. So this will have to do.