Leschi Elementary students took cover under their desks during the 2019 Great Washington ShakeOut on Thursday.
The annual statewide drill is part of a larger push to get Washington residents thinking about and preparing for the next major seismic event. Western Washington has the second-highest earthquake risk in the country.
There is a 10-20 percent chance of a major earthquake event along the Cascadia subduction zone in the next 50 years that has prompted may Seattle neighborhoods to coordinate a disaster preparedness response.
“That’s not the only one too. We had Nisqually in 2001,” said Brian Terbush, earthquake program manager for the Emergency Management Division of the Washington Military Department, who presided over the ShakeOut at Leschi Elementary on Oct. 17.
The Nisqually Earthquake was a 6.9-magnitude event, and there’s an 84-percent chance another quake of that size could hit Seattle again in the next 50 years, Terbush said.
Leschi students were instructed at 10:17 a.m. to drop under their desks, cover their heads and hold onto a leg of their desks, where they remained for several minutes.
Principal Lisa Moland said monitors responded to each classroom to make sure everyone was performing the drill correctly, and data collected would be used to make improvements. For example, last year some teachers did not seek shelter under a desk.
Terbush said Washington state is focused on not only detecting an impending earthquake, but getting an emergency alert out in time to save lives.
California used the ShakeOut to roll out its ShakeAlert early warning system — the first statewide system in the country. Much like an amber alert that is automatically sent to a person’s smartphone, the ShakeAlert system would notify people of an impending quake. Terbush said the notification is only expected to give people seconds to react.
Washington is working on creating its own ShakeAlert system modeled after California’s, and expects to roll that out next October, as well as a mobile app.
The MyShake app was designed for Californians by researchers at the University of California-Berkeley, and can access a person’s location to deliver alerts from the US. Geological Survey’s ShakeAlert Early Warning System. The system detects the first, less damaging seismic waves of a quake, and then sends an advance warning to those expected to feel the shaking.
Terbush said the Washington Legislature approved $1 million last year to build out the state’s network of seismometers. While Western Washington is closer to faults, Eastern Washington will also be affected by large seismic activity, he said.
A ShakeAlert system could also be used by municipalities to automatically start emergency protocols, Terbush said, such as opening bay doors at fire stations, so they don’t get stuck during an earthquake, preventing personnel from responding to a disaster.
The Northeast Sammamish Water District is piloting early-warning technology at a pump station, which would shut off the system during a quake, stoppping water from being directed through potentially broken pipes.
Seattle Public Schools has been making seismic improvements to its buildings for more than two decades now, and finished a project at Leschi Elementary last year.
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