Would you be ready if an earthquake struck today?
By Brian Terbush, Earthquake/Volcano Program Coordinator
To put it lightly, it’s been a tough end to a remarkable summer.
Checking the headlines over the past few weeks, a huge hurricane dropped ten more inches of rain than Seattle averages in an entire year on the city of Houston within the span of a week; one of the strongest recorded hurricanes in the Atlantic has already devastated several Islands in the Caribbean, and is now forecasted to place 37 million people in harm’s way; wildfires are burning all across large portions of Oregon, Idaho, California, Washington and Montana, forcing residents to flee their homes; and last night, the strongest recorded earthquake in more than a century struck near the Guatemala-Mexico border, generating a tsunami.
Our hearts go out to everyone impacted by and/or preparing for these events.
Whether these events provided weeks, days, or even only seconds of warning (residents in Mexico City, distant from the epicenter, had tens of seconds of warning to take personal protective actions before the strongest shaking arrived, thanks to a national Earthquake Early Warning system – though those close to the earthquake source had no warning), all of these disasters occurred. The fact that they all happened around the same period of time goes to show that while the probability of these high-consequence events may be low, that doesn’t mean that they won’t happen in your lifetime, or that they won’t happen to you, or that they won’t all happen at once.
These events have provided a grim reminder that disasters can happen to anyone. No one is immune to the disaster.
Washington – a state which no one has ever accused of lacking variety – is also prone to a wide range of disasters, each with a variety of timelines related to the warning they provide, onset time, duration and recovery. It is entirely possible, for instance, that tomorrow, a change in wind direction could push one of the current wildfires towards your home
At any given time, one of Washington’s five active volcanoes could begin showing signs of unrest, which would provide hours, days, weeks, to months of warning before an eruption – or years of stressful unrest and buildup, followed by no activity whatsoever.
A significant windstorm could knock out power to multiple communities, with downed trees blocking access, taking days or weeks for power restoration crews to arrive.
The largest threat to our state, however, will arrive with no warning. Like in Mexico, an earthquake could strike Washington from the Cascadia Subduction Zone, or from one of Washington’s many surface faults, or from a deep subducting plate causing damage and cascading impacts to communities, from landslides, to flooding, to power outages, road blockages, and many associated obstructions and hazards.
Just to complicate things, Like Harvey was followed by Irma, which may also be followed by Jose, it is just as likely that several of these events could even occur at once, multiplying and significantly worsening the impacts.
While these events have different amounts of warning associated with them, a common theme on the news reports related to Hurricane Irma’s imminent arrival is showing the scenes of empty grocery store shelves, and discussions of how there is not enough fuel for everyone. If one of these events were to happen tomorrow, it is NOT guaranteed that you would be able to get the supplies that you need. The day of, the day after, and even the days immediately before an event are NOT the time to prepare for an event, especially when so many can occur without notice.
Ask yourself, “if I were in that situation, with a hurricane three days out, would I need to be in the long lines stocking up on generators, weather radios, food and water at the last minute? If given an order to evacuate, would all the materials I need be nearby and ready? Do I know enough about the potential effects before, during, and after the disaster to make an informed decision about whether to stay, or to get your family/pets out of harm’s way?
If you are able to take action; now is the time. Act, or you will be forced to react.
Fortunately for you, helping make sure you know how to prepare is a big part of our jobs in Emergency Management. Here are a few key ideas for how you can begin to prepare, and some resources to help guide you.
Be informed – Get in touch with your county or local emergency management office to understand what is happening in your community, what the potential hazards are, and what can be done to prepare for them. Learn which hazards you will be able to, and/or should ride out, or shelter-in-place in your home, and how to make sure your home or business will stand up to them; and what the hazards are, so that if authorities issue an evacuation recommendation, you can make an informed decision for yourself and your family.
Build kits – In Washington, it is important to be two-weeks ready. Learn more about what you should have in your “grab and go” kit, in case a quick evacuation is needed; and what you should keep in your car kit. We also provide suggestions on how to store two weeks worth of supplies in your house, on any budget. It may seem anywhere from “daunting” to “downright impossible” right now, but start working on it a little bit at a time, and you’ll be surprised how easy it is to become prepared; you will be glad you set those resources aside, even when something smaller happens, like the next time the power goes out.
Get Connected – In a disaster, as shown time and time again, small communities rely on one another for the first line of help after a disaster. Get to know those around you and discuss your plans. Join efforts such as Map your Neighborhood to learn more about your community’s hazards, the people in your community that may have helpful skills, who may require additional help in a disaster. Become part of a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and learn how you can help out before and after a disaster in your community.
Lastly, in personal preparedness, it is critical to any response in a community that you know how to protect your immediate during little-to-no-notice events, such as the many earthquakes we have in Washington. Practice your “Drop, Cover, and Hold on” skills, with the rest of the state (to get that life-saving reaction to ground shaking into your muscle memory) during the Great ShakeOut on the third Thursday every year. (10:19 on 10/19 this year!) For more information on earthquakes, how to hold a drill, how to register yourself or organization, and a variety of resources on how to prepare yourself, your home, and your family/business for an earthquake, go to www.Shakeout.org/washington. Please join us: “Drop, cover, and Hold on,” and take at least one additional preparedness action.
Washington’s readiness for disasters, and its ability to recover from them ultimately lies with individuals, families, and organizations. We cannot prevent these disasters from happening, but by being prepared, we can ensure that our recovery, and the long-term impacts to our communities and State as a whole are lessened.
As we continue to respond to our fires, and prepare for future disasters, we wish to offer support to those impacted by others. For those wishing to donate to assist those affected by the recent disasters, make sure you’re doing it the right way. The Secretary of State’s Office has tips to avoid charity scams and to help you find the right charity for you.