How to survive 'the big one'

Earthquake preparedness in Madison Park

How to survive 'the big one'

How to survive 'the big one'

When a major disaster happens, it might not be surprising if salvation comes from an unexpected place — unusual times make for unusual circumstances. Still, it might raise an eyebrow to learn salvation is in a Knaack hardware box next to the public tennis court.

From June 7-10, about 6,000 people from emergency operations centers big, small, public and private participated in Cascadia Rising, an exercise simulating the emergency response to a potential 9.0 earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone. 

If such an earthquake were to hit the subduction zone — which spans the entire Pacific Northwest coast from Eureka, California, to Vancouver Island — it would damage thousands of structures, displace thousands of people and cause billions in economic damage. 

The Cascadia Rising simulation participants were faced with the prospect of responding immediately, figuring out how to accomplish vital tasks like transmitting evacuation information to the public or securing public officials in a window of minutes.

Those initial minutes weren’t the focus of a small group of Madison Park neighborhood volunteers who set up an information booth alongside 42nd Avenue East near East Madison Street July 11. Instead, they wanted passing residents to familiarize themselves with the Madison Park tennis courts as their go-to spot in the days following “the big one.”

“In the event of a natural disaster, people need a place to come and get information, and exchange important information they’ve learned,” volunteer Bob Edmiston said. 

This pulling together of people is vital because, in a disaster, many basic comforts will vanish. Gas and water lines, for example, must immediately be shut off to avoid gas leakage, explosions or the ingestion of contaminated water. 

“We can expect to be without power, water, sewer and communication systems for at least a month,” Edmiston said. One month would also likely be the amount of time Seattleites will be on their own before FEMA can respond.

The Knaack box was installed earlier this year with Madison Park Community Council funds and a $1,000 city Small Sparks Fund grant. It is stocked with a number of emergency supplies and is intended to be a gathering place for disaster survivors, volunteer John Madrid said.

Not included in the box is HAM radio equipment for communication. Edmiston became a licensed HAM radio operator in August and is one of three licensed operators who have volunteered for earthquake emergency response.

Radio communications are vital in emergency situations, Edmiston said.

“During [a disaster] all of the cell networks are overloaded by people calling into 911,” he said. “... When that happens, Seattle [Auxilary Communication Service] becomes the backbone of communication.”

Radio operators can verify local emergencies and situations and broadcast them out. By linking up to the larger network of HAM operators, such reports can contribute to the larger picture of the state of Seattle before outside assistance arrives.

“Subduction zone preparedness, it’s a big thing,” Edmiston said. “It goes from federal and state officials, to police and fire, all the way down to our little hub in Madison Park.”