It will be bad, but not that bad; all the more reason to prepare

About that big earthquake that’s coming our way, “It will be bad, but not that bad,” said Bill Steele of the University of Washington’s Pacific NW Seismic Network at an Eastlake Community Council Emergency Preparedness public meeting earlier this year.

The “not that bad” that he was referring to was the quote from The New Yorker article, by Kathryn Schulz, “The Really Big One” that went viral, where our region’s FEMA director said, “…everything west of I-5 will be toast.”

What the FEMA director meant, said Steele, is that counting on infrastructure (water, electricity, gas, phones) and, because many roads will be destroyed, access to supplies and emergency resources – that would be toast. Imagine the Colonnade collapsed, Steele said. It, along with other parts of I-5, and local roads, will likely be impassable.

In a follow-up piece, “How to stay safe when the big one comes,” Schulz discussed the impact the FEMA’s director’s quote had had and what it really meant and suggested changing the metaphor, “So a better analogy than toast,” she wrote, “is this: the Cascadia earthquake is going to hit the Pacific Northwest like a rock hitting safety glass, shattering the region into thousands of tiny areas, each isolated from one another and all extremely difficult to reach.”

And what would Lake Union do in the big one? While there won’t be a tsunami, there likely will be a seiche, a lot of sloshing, like when you tip a bowl of liquid back and forth. Steele showed a video of a swimming pool in Mexico captured on a hotel camera during a 2010 earthquake, where the water rolled violently back and forth.

Steele is all about preparing for earthquakes at least as much as we can. One of the chief things he’s working on is an emergency alert system; it could give a one- to two-minute warning about the Cascadia earthquake. Some of the warnings would be automatic, for example shutting off natural gas. Others would enable communications for stopping surgeries and transportation systems. But any kind of warning is still in the early stages, which is to say right now there would not be any warning except a lot of dogs barking.

In Seattle we sit on three potential earthquake zones. The one that strikes the most fear in people’s hearts, the one described in Kathryn Schulz’s “The Really Big One,” is on the Cascadia subduction zone and that has the potential to be bad to worse depending on how strong it turns out to be. The Cascadia zone runs from just south of Oregon up to Vancouver B.C. and is roughly from west of I-5 to the Pacific Ocean.

In the worst-case scenario, Schulz reports, FEMA is anticipating that nearly 13,000 people will die when the big one strikes – a combination of both earthquake and tsunami; another 27,000 will be injured, and over a million people will lose their homes and need immediate shelter; another two and a half million will need food and water.

But earthquakes are as unpredictable as other natural disasters, Steele said, destroying one building or road and leaving another one intact. You just don’t know.

 

“In the I-5 corridor it will take between one and three months after the earthquake to restore electricity, a month to a year to restore drinking water and sewer service, six months to a year to restore major highways, and eighteen months to restore health-care facilities,” Schulz’s writes.

With all that infrastructure gone it’s hard to imagine where to begin, but a few people around the city are doing just that – imagining – and planning. They’re forming hubs, centralized meeting places for catastrophes.

Cindi Barker a volunteer with Seattle Hubs spoke after Steele’s presentation. She began by asking people to raise their hands for what skills they have – Medical? Electrical? Plumbing? Ham Radio? Don’t have any of those skills? Not to worry – have you organized a wedding or a big Thanksgiving dinner? You have organizing skills! And if you can cook? Cooks will be needed in any large power outage for mass meal preparation.

Carpentry? Architecture? People knowledgeable in buildings will be needed to judge if a structure is safe. People who work with youth will be needed to organize activities for kids. The list goes on.

Eastlake has two designated Hubs where people can meet to organize and share information and resources – Roger’s Playfield and the P-Patch (all city P-Patches are designated Hubs). The difference between the two is that Roger’s has an organized group behind it. Whereas the P-patches will simply become gathering centers.

But right now interest in preparing for the event that may or may not happen in our lifetime is a little low. An April 28 city-wide drill did not have an Eastlake or any nearby drill location.  Amy O’Donnell one of the organizers for the Rogers group says she and a couple of other people participated in in the drill at the Ballard Hub. But it may be that word has just not gotten out well enough yet. If you’re interested in getting involved in the Eastlake Hub, contact O’Donnell at Eastlake.hub@gmail.com.

If you do nothing else, Baker said, begin stockpiling water – you can live three weeks without food but only three days without water, and stockpile any lifesaving prescriptions.

Baker said we have to assume that we could be on our own for days, perhaps weeks, without power, water, and emergency services. The city has priorities about what roads get fixed first, using the Green Gold map they use to clear snow. Known arterials, the city’s spine will need to open first. Most likely water and power will get turned on in hospitals and in the densest areas although any utilities that are easy to fix, the low hanging fruit, will also likely get fixed first no matter where they are.

The hubs will be set up for the disasters. What about using the Internet? Someone asked. “If there’s internet service,” noted Baker, “I won’t be outside in the cold and rain under a tarp with a clipboard.”

This article was first published in The Eastlake News.