earthquakes | KUOW News and Information

earthquakes

Are you ready for the Big One?

Jul 20, 2018
KUOW earthquake kit.
KUOW Photo/Katherine Banwell

Bill Steele is coordinator of the seismology lab at the University of Washington's Earth and Space Sciences department. He told KUOW's Katherine Banwell how to prepare for a major disaster.

Linus Sticklin, age 7, wowed the crowd with his knowledge of natural disasters.
KUOW Photo/Kristin Leong

A catastrophe-focused crowd turned out last night for KUOW’s Disaster Night! — a quiz show about natural disasters (and disaster movies), at the Royal Room in Columbia City. 

More Hall on the University of Washington campus, left, and Damage of 7.1 earthquake in Mexico, September 2017.
University of Washington/http://pcad.lib.washington.edu/image/745/ & Credit Courtesy of Miyamoto International

When the next major earthquake roils our region, University of Washington’s civil engineers and seismic experts will not be safe.


After years of debate, the Portland City Council on Wednesday took a big step towards making the city’s old brick buildings more earthquake-safe.

Ocean Shores, Washington, has no natural high ground inside its city limits. On Tuesday night, residents will meet with government and university experts to discuss whether to build a tsunami evacuation platform as in a few other Northwest coastal towns.

A big earthquake could hit Seattle in the next 50 years. That got KUOW listener Derek Hanson wondering: What would happen to our most prominent landmark?


A scene from a simulation by the Washington State Department of Transportation of what could happen if a massive earthquake hits the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
YouTube/WSDOT

There will be a time — it could be tomorrow, it could be 100 years from now —when the ground beneath us will start to shake.

Buildings will crumble. Roads will be destroyed. And then a 60-foot wall of water will crash onto the Washington coast line.

Nearly 20 percent of people in Washington and 15 percent in Oregon speak a language other than English at home. Emergency managers from around the West are grappling with how to reach people in foreign languages in the midst of a disaster. A new Washington state law seeks to raise the bar.

Bill Steele demonstrates of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network uses a shake table to show how earthquake forces gain power as they move away from the ground. But under the ground, it's a different story.
KUOW Photo/Carolyn Adolph

The Seattle region has been growing so fast, there are now 400,000 more people here than in 2009, when we agreed to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a tunnel. 

One of the key elements of your emergency kit should be enough drinking water to be self-sufficient for days or weeks after a big earthquake. That task become much trickier when public water systems are wrecked and you are responsible for hordes of people in a community shelter.

When The Big One happens, emergency planners and geologists expect the vast majority of us will survive. But a magnitude 9 rupture on the Cascadia earthquake fault will likely cut electricity, running water and sewer for weeks—or even months afterwards.

Planned student walkouts Wednesday bring attention to reducing the threat of school shootings. One group of Northwest parents is pushing schools to prepare better for another kind of disaster, a major earthquake. 

Flickr Photo/ Carol Munro (CC BY-NC 2.0)/ https://flic.kr/p/7x2ngB

In the early, early hours of Tuesday morning phones lit up along the Washington coast alerting to the possibility of a tsunami. A 7.9 magnitude earthquake had just hit in the Gulf of Alaska.

The things is, not ALL the phones on the WA coast lit up. And as for that alert, it said there was a tsunami "watch" not a warning. Some people evacuated, some people didn't know whether they should.

This exposes a lot of questions about how ready we are for the big waves. The Seattle Times' science reporter Sandi Doughton explains what was learned after this latest tsunami warning.

A 7.9 earthquake off the coast of Alaska triggered a tsunami watch that stretched from Washington to California early Tuesday morning. But many coastal residents slumbered right through it.

That’s because it was a watch—not a warning—which would have triggered outdoor sirens up and down the coast.

Shallow, active earthquake faults are being discovered all over Oregon and Washington state. Collectively, these may present a higher risk than the better known offshore Cascadia subduction zone.

More people than ever—1.2 million in Washington state and more than 570,000 in Oregon—are registered to participate in the annual Great ShakeOut earthquake and tsunami drill Thursday morning.


Not coincidentally, a Washington state agency is using this week to highlight how the Evergreen State needs to play catch up with neighboring states on earthquake preparedness.

An unreinforced masonry wall fails a shake test at the University of British Columbia
Courtesy of UBC

Seattle has 1,100 old brick buildings that are especially vulnerable to collapsing in a big earthquake. Few have been retrofitted to withstand a major seismic event.

Now researchers at the University of British Columbia say they’ve come up with a cheap, fast way to reinforce such buildings: spray them with bendable concrete.

A scene from a simulation by the Washington State Department of Transportation of what could happen if a massive earthquake hits the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
YouTube/WSDOT

Hundreds of old brick buildings in Seattle are at risk of collapsing during a major earthquake – that’s clear.

Also clear: These structures are often in neighborhoods with high risk for displacement – affecting people of color and low-income households.

Last week’s earthquake in Mexico provided another reminder about the risks of poorly reinforced buildings. According to government studies, there are literally thousands of older brick and concrete buildings in Oregon and Washington that could collapse in a strong earthquake.

A scene from a simulation by the Washington State Department of Transportation of what could happen if a massive earthquake hits the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
YouTube/WSDOT

Seconds before last week's 7.1 magnitude earthquake in Mexico City, people got an alert that the ground was about to start shaking. The Sistema de Alerta Sismica Mexicano, or SASMEX, gives people a chance to get under a desk or leave a building before the shaking begins. 

Friends and family in Mexico City write a thank you to people in Seattle who contributed to the earthquake victims.
KUOW Photo/Liz Jones

SAN GREGORIO ATLAPULCO, MEXICO - A week after Mexico City’s devastating earthquake, donations continue to pour in. One came this week from Seattle and was delivered by hand to a hard hit town. KUOW's Liz Jones just happened to be nearby.


Updated 6:30 a.m. ET Wednesday

The head of Mexico's civil defense agency has lowered the number of people confirmed dead in Tuesday's earthquake. Luis Felipe Puente now says 217 people were killed. Earlier he said the death toll was 248. He gave no explanation for the revised number.

Updated at 3:30 a.m. ET

The death toll continues to rise in Mexico after Tuesday's earthquake. The country's national civil defense agency confirmed the death toll stands at 248. Rescue teams are digging through the rubble to find survivors.

An earthquake with a magnitude of 5.8 startled many people out of their sleep in western Montana early Thursday. The shallow quake was felt for hundreds of miles from its epicenter southeast of Lincoln, including in parts of neighboring states and in Canada.

"We have no reports of injuries due to the earthquake at this time," member station Montana Public Radio reports. "Shockwaves are still being felt with decreasing intensity in parts of western Montana."

Vulnerability assessments by utilities and emergency planners along the U.S. West Coast suggest it could be weeks or a month or more before water service gets restored after a major earthquake - not to mention electricity, sewage treatment and fuel supply too. The social and economic disruption does not have to be that bad though, given adequate preparedness and investments in critical infrastructure as demonstrated in Japan.

This image is a close up of the standing timber on the south end of Mercer Island.  The image is generated using a side scan sonar towed behind a boat about 20 feet off the bottom. The trees are visible mostly from the shadows they cast.
Courtesy of Ben Griner of Coastal Sensing & Survey

At the southern end of Lake Sammamish, just off Greenwood Point, several jagged, gray logs stick up from the water. They’re the only visible sign of an ancient, perfectly-preserved underwater forest that’s been sitting at the bottom of the lake for over a thousand years.

A screenshot from the U.S. Geological Survey earthquakes website shows the epicenter of a 3.4 earthquake near Bremerton, Wash., early Wednesday.
U.S. Geological Survey

A small earthquake centered near Bremerton shook the central Puget Sound area early Wednesday.

Public schools in Washington state would be encouraged—but not required—to hold at least one earthquake drill per year under a measure scheduled for Gov. Jay Inslee's signature Thursday.

The state of Oregon has announced a new round of taxpayer-funded grants to help schools and other public buildings better withstand a major earthquake.

The grant program is funded by state bonds. It was created just over a decade ago when lawmakers became convinced of the need to protect critical infrastructure as well as to protect lives of vulnerable people in the event of a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.

An early warning system for earthquakes is expanding to Oregon and Washington — thanks to a group of universities and government agencies.

California has had the "ShakeAlert" system for a couple of years. And depending on where an earthquake hits, it can give nearby cities a warning of up to a minute or two. That’s enough for a train to stop, a lift to open, or for people to get out of a building.

Big earthquakes happen infrequently enough in the Northwest that people can be lulled into complacency. That’s not the case in Japan.

Most large Japanese cities have at least one disaster training center, where people can learn in realistic simulators what to do in an earthquake, typhoon or fire. Leaders from the Pacific Northwest who have seen these centers say it’s a concept worth copying.

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