earthquake preparedness

When a massive tsunami hit the northeast coast of Japan in 2011, waves of water overtopped sea walls, swallowed buildings and surged higher than anticipated. One thing those images prompted was a reexamination of the tsunami risk in the Pacific Northwest.

Fewer than one in five homeowners in the West carry earthquake insurance, according to an insurance industry survey. That would set back our region's recovery if the Big One were to hit tomorrow.

Now both Oregon and Washington state are looking to California for a possible solution to get their numbers up.

Vulnerability assessments by utilities and emergency planners along the U.S. West Coast suggest it could be weeks or a month or more before water service gets restored after a major earthquake - not to mention electricity, sewage treatment and fuel supply too. The social and economic disruption does not have to be that bad though, given adequate preparedness and investments in critical infrastructure as demonstrated in Japan.

Elaine Thompson / Associated Press

Public schools in Washington state would be encouraged, but not required, to hold at least one earthquake drill per year under a measure scheduled for the governor's signature tomorrow.

The state of Oregon has announced a new round of taxpayer-funded grants to help schools and other public buildings better withstand a major earthquake.

Big earthquakes happen infrequently enough in the Northwest that people can be lulled into complacency. That’s not the case in Japan.

Most large Japanese cities have at least one disaster training center, where people can learn in realistic simulators what to do in an earthquake, typhoon or fire. Leaders from the Pacific Northwest who have seen these centers say it’s a concept worth copying.

The report cards are in and it's not pretty if you worry about how you'll fare after a magnitude 9 Cascadia megaquake and tsunami. Washington and Oregon's emergency management divisions have now published after-action reviews of last June's multi-state disaster drill called Cascadia Rising .

An Oregon agency is proposing two new earthquake proof buildings near the state Capitol in Salem to ensure government continuity after a Magnitude 9 offshore mega quake. The state buildings would have solar power and backup generators, independent water and sewage systems, and shock absorbers under the foundation.

Washington state is playing catch-up compared to other West Coast states on earthquake preparedness. A "subcabinet" of state agency directors convened by Gov. Jay Inslee will hold its first public meeting Tuesday afternoon to review possible actions to improve.

Ray Bouknight / Flickr

The Federal government has allocated $3.7 million for an earthquake early warning system for the west coast. The U.S. Geological Survey awarded additional grant money to the University of Oregon.

Yakima Valley Emergency Management Office

If a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami hit Washington state, people in the central and eastern parts of the state would not be the hardest hit, but survival would not be a walk in the park either. That’s why emergency organizers east of the Cascade Mountains are preparing to handle that kind of disaster. 

Planes and parachutes might be the best bet for getting supplies to cut-off areas in the event of a subduction zone earthquake. National Guard pilots and paratroopers practiced supply drops and parachute jumps Thursday.

Federal agencies and university scientists are making progress on the deployment of an earthquake early warning system for the West Coast. That was one of the messages from a half-day earthquake preparedness summit hosted by the White House Tuesday.

Making school buildings strong enough to withstand a major earthquake is one of the highest priorities for emergency planners on the West Coast. Washington state is taking small steps to identify the most vulnerable schools, while Oregon is actually spending to fix things.

The state of Oregon has updated its master plan for what to do in case of a major earthquake and tsunami.

U.S. Geological Survey

Members of Washington’s Congressional delegation were in Seattle Monday to push for expanded funding for an earthquake emergency warning system.

Senator Patty Murray and Representative Derek Kilmer toured the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network at the University of Washington.

Congressman Calls For Earthquake Warning System For NW

Jul 28, 2015
U.S. Geological Survey

Oregon's Democratic Congressman Peter DeFazio introduced a bill Tuesday to fund an earthquake early warning system for the Pacific Northwest.

Pacific Northwest businesses have noticed an uptick in earthquake preparation sales and inquiries since the New Yorker wrote about an expected 9.0 magnitude earthquake.

Engineer Calls Oregon Earthquake Investment 'A Start'

Jul 14, 2015

The Oregon Legislature made its largest-ever investment for earthquake improvements this past session, but experts say the state still has a long way to go.

Amidst further downsizing confirmed by the U.S. Army Thursday, the Washington National Guard got good news. The Guard’s 81st Armored Brigade announced it will shed its heavy tanks and armor to convert into a more nimble Stryker configuration.

By Tom Banse

More than one thousand Washington National Guard members are rehearsing a worst-case earthquake scenario this week. That would be a magnitude nine rupture of the offshore Cascadia fault zone. Adjutant General Bret Daugherty says he assumes quake relief in that case will need to be delivered by airlift from east of the Cascades.

"We're going to have large pockets of isolation because we're not going to be able to travel on the ground. So really, help is going to have to flow into Western Washington from the east. Spokane is going to play a critical role there," says Daugherty.

Andy Maguire / Flickr

Congressional Democrats from up and down the West Coast are asking the House Appropriations Committee to allocate more money for a new earthquake early warning system.

The warning system uses sensors to detect the initial, less destructive, waves of an earthquake. So it doesn't give much advance notice -- between a few seconds and a minute.

But politicians argued that's enough for a doctor to stop a complicated surgery, a train driver to put on the brakes, or a family to move away from the windows.

Andy Maguire / Flickr

The new federal budget sent to the president's desk over the weekend included $5 million for an earthquake early warning along the West Coast. 

The proposed early warning system can't predict earthquakes. It's designed to give a heads up about strong shaking coming from a distance. It has worked because electronic signals can travel faster than rumbling over the surface.

Depending on how close you are to the epicenter, U.S. Geological Service geophysicist Doug Given said you could get an alert anywhere between ten seconds to a minute in advance.

Oregon Legislature

Oregon's state capitol building could soon undergo a massive renovation. It's a project so big, lawmakers would have to use a temporary capitol for more than three years.
 
Senior project manager Tary Carlson says the idea is to help the Depression-era capitol building withstand a major earthquake.

"When this was built 76 years ago, they did not design for lateral forces of a seismic event such as a Cascadia Subduction Zone," Carlson says.

And so what would be left if the Big One hits?

"A pile of rubble," Carlson says.