Did you feel the Oct. 8 early evening 4.3 magnitude earthquake?
For those who did, it was a big reminder of the precarious infrastructure of our Puget Sound region. We live on top of two seriously powerful earthquake threats — the Seattle Fault and Cascadia Subduction Zones.
Since the 1980s, scientists in our area have been warning us about the threat of “the BIG ONE” — a magnitude 9.0 quake from the Cascadia Subduction Zone. It has a history of unleashing some of the most powerful and damaging earthquakes in the world, typically occurring every five centuries, but some were only 200 years apart.
I thought of this on Oct. 8 because it’s already been 323 years since the last really damaging shaking was unleashed. Was this our early warning system?
In 2017, Gov. Inslee formed a cabinet to prepare our state for such a catastrophe saying, “The science is clear that we have in our future a megaquake.” Seattle Times science writers Sandi Doughton and Daniel Gilbert have reported expectations that “the BIG ONE” will shake the entire Pacific Northwest for four to five minutes, longer than the five biggest quakes in Washington’s recorded history combined. Communities will lose power and remain dark for weeks. Some 14,600 people could perish in Washington and Oregon. It's likely to be one of the worst disasters the United States has ever faced. We see news of horrific disasters in other places, but never think they could happen here. It’s time to plan for our turn.
ACTIONS NOT TAKEN
You can hear the angst in Doughton and Gilbert’s reporting (The Seattle Times). They describe how repeated studies and recommendations by seismic advisors have failed to secure needed actions, ones to help mitigate the disastrous impacts of a major earthquake and our ability to respond rapidly.
Could it be political will, or are there are just too many urgent priorities competing for available dollars and people power?
The good news is that “how-to” resources have been developed at the city, state, and federal level, guiding ordinary citizens on how to prepare themselves, both at the personal and community level. A web search will lead you to checklists, videos, skills training, and shopping lists to prepare your family, your home, and vehicle to keep you safe and able to move into emergency action. For locally targeted resources and skills training visit: Emergency Preparedness, Disaster Awareness.
At the community level, more than a decade of work led by volunteers has steadily set up a network of Neighborhood Emergency Communication Hubs, a designated place for people to gather to exchange information, and to seek and offer help. A rotating core group of volunteers learns to gather some basic low-tech communication supplies and practice some systems and protocols to help neighbors manage how to help each other when a disaster shuts down power and communication networks.
For a helpful overview of how a neighborhood Hub might function during an emergency, watch citywide volunteer Ann Forest walk viewers through how volunteers can practice the functions of a neighborhood Emergency Hub (find it on YouTube).
MADISON PARK NEIGHBORS STEPPING UP
In Madison Park, a steady group of volunteers has been growing and solidifying our work. We’ve begun to hold events and enhance our neighborhood education and community partnership efforts. A wonderful byproduct of this work is the growing comradery we feel, not only within our own neighborhood Hub volunteers, but with adjacent neighborhoods, where volunteers are launching their Emergency Hubs.
It’s heartening to run into each other on the street or in a café sometimes in an adjacent neighborhood, recognizing we’re part of a bigger effort than our own little homestead or block cluster. When that little quake was felt on the night of Oct. 8, many of us quickly checked in with each other to make sure all felt safe or had uncovered any brain freezes or panic about what to do should more quaking be standing in the wings.
Practice, practice, practice. We know this is essential for us to develop muscle memory for how to behave rationally and kick into action when disaster arrives. While we have an annual practice drill at our actual Hub location in the park, more recently we’ve been holding indoor drills, working at tables where we can practice with less physical exertion and weather challenges. Cindi Barker, another highly experienced citywide volunteer, has been guiding these tabletop drills. She gives us several scenarios we may face as a community after a quake and helps us practice how we will keep the community informed about recovery efforts while simultaneously matching neighbors’ immediate needs with neighbors’ offers of help.
During these drills, volunteers practice at different communication “stations” and gain the confidence to improvise as needed. We debrief, uncover kinks in our systems and improve them for the next scheduled practice. These are lively, fun events, and expose us to different approaches and ways of problem solving. We have learned there is always more than one way to meet our neighbors’ needs.
On a more somber note, we know that when an actual disaster arrives some of us may not be available to get to the Hub, so we need to cross-train and learn how to assume any of the needed roles. Toward that end, the Hub box has been outfitted so that it has “quick start” instructions to support anyone who opens it to begin operating this essential communication process.
Why just stay home and play fantasy football or video games when you could be part of a real-life simulation that prepares us to work well together when the BIG ONE arrives?
Along with our adjacent neighborhood Hubs, our Mad Park volunteer team has been developing a series of Hub 101, 201, and 301 practice drills scheduled for the coming year. Each of these will review and build on what we’ve learned before, adding on a new station or two with volunteer roles and skills to learn, and more complex citizen scenarios to address.
The Madison Park Hub will have its next indoor drill in early January. All are invited for this Hub 201 drill, no prior experience needed. We’ll practice scenarios related to the various medical challenges people will experience after a quake. This will include, for example, the loss of essential prescription medications, injuries with broken bones and severe bleeding, and mental health crises. We will also discuss how we will use different types of radios to collect critical information such as closed roads, water availability, fires, or which hospitals are open and how to convey this to the community.
If you have interest in joining us for a drill, we’d love to learn and practice with you. All tabletop practice drills will be held at Parkshore Senior Living, so send us your contact details if you want to be notified via email: email@example.com.
You can also find our Madison Park Hub events on the Friends of Madison Park community blackboard located between the Madison Park Pharmacy and the hardware store near the corner of Madison and 42nd Ave East. Volunteers with the nearby Madison Valley Hub post their activities at Madison Valley HUB (madvalleyhub.org).