by Victor Simoes
California is usually the West Coast state most associated with earthquakes, but the Pacific Northwest is due for a “Big One” of its own. The thing is, no one knows when.
For years, scientists have been sounding the alarm to expect a 9.0 scale earthquake on the Washington coast, a quake — and resulting tsunami — that will catastrophically impact Seattle’s infrastructures. If the idea of the Big One sends you into a panic, there’s plenty you can do now to prepare, starting this Thursday with the Great ShakeOut preparedness drills.
“If the topic is really, really scary and seems overwhelming, I think the most helpful thing to do is to get educated because once you know what to expect, I feel like it looks much less frightening,” said Ann Forrest, volunteer educator with the Emergency Communication Hubs, Office of Emergency Management, SeattlePrepares, and Stop The Bleed.
Local and national attention was brought to the impending earthquake in the article “The Really Big One,” published in The New Yorker in 2015. With reliable scientific sources, author Kathryn Schulz created a generalized panic when she stated the Seattle area would theoretically undergo total annihilation when this earthquake hit. So much so that a few days later, Reddit hosted an IAmA discussion with three seismology experts to answer questions from frightened citizens.
However, those who participated in that discussion hoping to have their fears assuaged were disappointed. Even though Schulz’s promise of complete destruction was debunked, experts found her article very accurate.
More studies published as early as this year discovered even more information about the impacts of a magnitude 7.5 earthquake in the Seattle area. A report produced by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources revealed that an earthquake of this proportion could trigger a tsunami within three minutes, reaching a larger area than previously thought.
Thinking about preparing for the inevitable, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in collaboration with other agencies, created the Great ShakeOut earthquake drills, an annual event for people in homes, schools, and organizations to practice what to do during earthquakes and to improve preparedness.
With over 1 million registered participants in Washington — including individuals, businesses, schools, and community groups — this year’s edition of the Great ShakeOut happens on Thursday, Oct. 20, at 10:20 a.m.
“The Great ShakeOut is wonderful because it at least puts [earthquakes] on the radar for people,” said Forrest. “It lets them know that we live in an earthquake country because Seattle has so many transplants, people that weren’t born here, and we rarely have earthquakes.”
The drill uses simple steps to inform and train people on how to perform drop, cover, and hold on — safe actions designed to protect lives from falling furniture and flying objects that can become projectiles during earthquakes.
“Even though to me it’s one short day on the calendar, it’s essential because we have such busy lives now that people don’t have time to think about emergency management and getting prepared, “ said Cindi Barker, volunteer with the Seattle Emergency Communication Hubs. “And even though natural hazards are out there, and we’re aware, the motivation only comes when it becomes foremost in people’s minds.”
Anyone willing to participate in the Great ShakeOut may register on the event’s website which offers customized information on how to conduct the drill depending on the organization and location.
Seattle’s Office of Emergency Management also offers online classes called Disaster Preparedness: The Basics. The online courses seek to bring an overview of these natural events’ impacts and how people and organizations can be better prepared for them. Information on the content and dates of the online classes can be found on the Office of Emergency Management’s event registration page.
Beyond governmental actions, longtime community members seek to expand preparedness beyond the “drop, cover and hold on” immediate response promoted by the Great ShakeOut, helping individuals to create a collective response to those hazardous events.
Forrest created a series of 30-minute disaster preparedness online classes that breaks down the response into manageable steps.
“I’ve been involved in a volunteer capacity with disaster preparedness for five to seven years doing different things. I’ve gained much knowledge, and I just like sharing it.” Forrest said.
The latest series of six Zoom classes covering a range of disaster preparation topics started Oct. 13 and will continue to take place weekly on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. until Nov. 16. Classes are free, and videos of past classes can be accessed online.
Want to find an Emergency Communication Hub near you? Follow Rainier Beach Ready Hub on Facebook, and learn about more hubs at the official website. You can also connect with local mutual aid groups to see what they’re doing to plan for emergencies.
Victor Simoes is an international student at the University of Washington pursuing a double degree in journalism and photo/media. Originally from Florianópolis, Brazil, they enjoy radical organizing, hyper pop, and their beloved cats. Their writing focuses on community, arts, and culture. You can find them on Instagram or Twitter at @victorhaysser.
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