New Yorker Article on Seattle and Earthquakes: Part Two

What should we be doing in an earthquake?

Drop – get down to the ground or floor before the shaking of the earth throws you there.  (Do this in the first couple of seconds.)
Cover – get under a table or desk or other piece of furniture that can protect you from falling items such as books, light fixtures, etc. Face away from windows and mirrors.
Hold – hold on to the furniture, move with it. It is your protection from falling objects.

- Victims who try to move on their feet during serious shaking are often thrown violently by the seismic forces and can suffer serious injury from being thrown AND…
-Are at risk for suffering life-threatening injuries from being simultaneously imbedded with glass shards. Actual post-earthquake data show that large and dagger-like shards of glass can travel more than 20 feet, and with enough force to penetrate solid wood. If you are attempting to move on your feet, your entire body is exposed to glass and other objects that can forcefully fly from every direction.

Be prepared for aftershocks.
There has been a challenge to Drop, Cover, Hold that the Red Cross says is wrong.  Also from the Red Cross:

The American Red Cross has not recommended use of a doorway for earthquake protection for more than a decade. The problem is that many doorways are not built into the structural integrity of a building, and may not offer protection. Also, simply put, doorways are not suitable for more than one person at a time. 

Get a plan.  It's not to scare the kids; it's to empower them.  Make sure your kids have an out-of-state contact on their phone.  (Not that they'll work right away but if they do.)  You need an out-of-state contact because the local lines will be jammed.  But you might be able to call a brother in Boston and, if everyone checks in with him, you'll know who's okay and where they are.

Get prepared.  Honestly, do this because even a "smaller" earthquake (say, anything over 7.0) is going to cause trouble.  Do you remember Katrina 10 years ago?  I, myself, do NOT believe anyone will come and help for a least two days.  And, don't forget your car.  As well, have the kids help you get ready; they're part of the solution and, if you aren't home but they are, they will know where supplies are. Lastly, secure that water heater - you don't need it falling over and creating an even worse situation.

For the kids, a website called "Disaster Hero" where your kid has to try to survive a natural disaster.

From OSPI:
School Safety Center

The 2013 Legislature allocated $10 million in competitive grant capital funds to help school districts with implementing an emergency response system (Second Substitute Senate Bill 5197).  

In addition to the competitive grants, the legislation also required school districts to collaborate with local law enforcement agencies and school security personnel to develop an emergency response system using evolving technology. This was done to expedite the response and arrival of law enforcement in the event of a threat or emergency at a school. By December 1, 2014, each school district was required to submit a progress report on implementation of such an emergency response to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.  

The Stranger Slog had excellent coverage of the New Yorker article including an interview with Sandy Doughton, author of Full-Rip 9.0; the Next Big Earthquake in the Pacific Northwest.  She says this:

Also, nearly 1,000 schools in Oregon have a high risk of collapse in a major earthquake. Most of Seattle’s public schools have been retrofitted—but lots of other districts haven’t done much, and there’s been no statewide survey of school safety in Washington.

Portland, Seattle, Vancouver—which city is going to get it worse?
Definitely Portland. They didn’t consider quakes in their building codes until the late 1980s, and most of those bridges downtown are old and rickety.

About east versus west of I-5 and who will be worse off:

It’s true that the shaking weakens with distance from the fault, but I wouldn’t count on that tiny margin to save you. What I think the FEMA official meant is that a lot of our infrastructure in Western WA—utilities, roads, some bridges, brick buildings—will be wrecked, and access to the coast will be cut off.

What will happen when this earthquake hits (according to The New Yorker article)?

The Pacific Northwest has no early-warning system. When the Cascadia earthquake begins, there will be, instead, a cacophony of barking dogs and a long, suspended, what-was-that moment before the surface waves arrive. Surface waves are slower, lower-frequency waves that move the ground both up and down and side to side: the shaking, starting in earnest.

Soon after that shaking begins, the electrical grid will fail, likely everywhere west of the Cascades and possibly well beyond. If it happens at night, the ensuing catastrophe will unfold in darkness. In theory, those who are at home when it hits should be safest; it is easy and relatively inexpensive to seismically safeguard a private dwelling. But, lulled into nonchalance by their seemingly benign environment, most people in the Pacific Northwest have not done so. That nonchalance will shatter instantly. So will everything made of glass.  

Water heaters will fall and smash interior gas lines. Houses that are not bolted to their foundations will slide off—or, rather, they will stay put, obeying inertia, while the foundations, together with the rest of the Northwest, jolt westward. Unmoored on the undulating ground, the homes will begin to collapse.

First mention of schools:

Ian Madin, who directs the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI), estimates that seventy-five per cent of all structures in the state are not designed to withstand a major Cascadia quake. FEMA calculates that, across the region, something on the order of a million buildings—more than three thousand of them schools—will collapse or be compromised in the earthquake. 

So will half of all highway bridges, fifteen of the seventeen bridges spanning Portland’s two rivers, and two-thirds of railways and airports; also, one-third of all fire stations, half of all police stations, and two-thirds of all hospitals.

After the earthquake, then come landslides to our city.

It will also induce a process called liquefaction, whereby seemingly solid ground starts behaving like a liquid, to the detriment of anything on top of it. Fifteen per cent of Seattle is built on liquefiable land, including seventeen day-care centers and the homes of some thirty-four thousand five hundred people.  

Together, the sloshing, sliding, and shaking will trigger fires, flooding, pipe failures, dam breaches, and hazardous-material spills. 

And if there's a tsunami?

Among natural disasters, tsunamis may be the closest to being completely unsurvivable. The only likely way to outlive one is not to be there when it happens: to steer clear of the vulnerable area in the first place, or get yourself to high ground as fast as possible.  

“When that tsunami is coming, you run,” Jay Wilson, the chair of the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission (OSSPAC), says. “You protect yourself, you don’t turn around, you don’t go back to save anybody. You run for your life.”

In Oregon, the superintendent of schools for Seaside, tried to pass a bond measure for $128M for a K-12 school that would be outside of the inundation zone.   It failed by 62%.  


Anonymous said…
BC schools had their seismic updates delayed 10 years.

Anonymous said…
This is one of those things you have to compartmentalize in your mind to go on with everyday life. Sort of like eating animal produuucts.


p.s. I got salad for the captcha
n said…
This is terrifying. I always thought Phinney Ridge would be my salvation. A good friend's brother moved to Wisconsin simply due to the earthquake threat. Given the scenario I read, I can't see spending gobs of money to protect myself against a threat of that scope. It's not like a 9.0 threat is going to suddenly become a 6.0 magnitude. It's the big one or it isn't . . . I've spent the last hour Googling PNW plate info and mountain formation and it seems like we are in the center of activity and destined for destruction. How anyone can determine that I-5 might be a boundary of relief is beyond me. I'd love to hear more input on this just because it is fascinating as well as very scary.

Here's a picture that caught my attention: While I've know about our earthquake vulnerability for my entire life, I never thought about in such devastating terms. Always thought those LA types were the craziest given the geology and geography under their feet. And I've read that frequent small earthquakes stabilize a region and we don't have a lot of them. So, with each quake, the chances of it being the big one are greater. Do I have my math right?

And don't we have seismic information that keeps us somewhat abreast of the grinding and grumbling going on under our feet minute by minute? And if we had a system of audible warnings, traffic would be at a standstill. I guess it's time to get a bicycle equipped with a pet carrier. I'd get my old body on it if there was no other way out.
n said…
I'd get my old body on it if there was no other way out. Especially if I only had to bike to I-5!
Anonymous said…
"How anyone can determine that I-5 might be a boundary of relief is beyond me. "

I read that, and decided I wasn't going to read the rest of the article. 'Cause, there's no way they could determine that I-5 is the boundary. It's clearly a buzz word to attract attention.

I agree that it's not a threat (i.e. complete devastation of the city) you can really prepare for, but it's a good idea to prepare for the lesser magnitudes that will happen.

No, I think the idea about I-5 is that it may end up being a line for those who had a chance versus those with almost no chance.
Patrick said…
But in downtown Seattle, I-5 is only about half a mile from the water, while around NE 75th St. it's a couple of miles and over a big ridge. And we have had smaller quakes here, as recently as 2001. Preparation is always good, but it seems they're exaggerating the likelihood of a worst case scenario. I'm afraid the picture they're painting is so bleak many will figure there's no point in preparing at all.
Christina said…
A UW Seismologist, teamed with a Seattle Times science writer and a Washington State Emergency Manager would be more accurate and believable describing likely and worst-case scenarios for a 9.0 earthquake on the shallower Seattle fault.

Anonymous said…
Having been in an earthquake (Loma Prieta) I can tell you what really works in an earthquake: seismic building codes. Let's make sure contractors are doing the right thing by the people in the building. Retrofits are excellent as well. I went into 16 story buildings in SF that were on rockers and nothing even came off the shelves. Older buildings, everything came off the shelves. I have read that this is one principle reason the loss of life in SF was so limited while in Kobe, Japan - thousands were killed. They weren't scrupulous about seismic building codes at that time in Japan. With this madcap building boom, can we trust that everything is to code? Is the city trying to promote density at the expense of building regulations? We should spend, perhaps, more time thinking about this more than squirreling away water jugs.

A few other things (from personal experience)
-Phones will be overloaded within 15 minutes. Keep trying though - you might get through. Once you contact your loved ones get off the phone.
-Buses will not be running.
-Electricity will be off.
-Traffic lights will not be working.
-Pets will be going CRAZY, jumping out of windows etc.
-Water might be dicey in some houses.
-Broken gas lines can be worse than the temblor itself
-Information about bridges etc, might be hard to get unless you have a battery powered radio.

That's all I can remember from that crazy day! I'm hoping not to be in ANOTHER temblor but now I live in yet another seismically active place, next to an active volcano no less......


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