For the past three hundred and nineteen years, a disaster has been brewing off the coast of the Pacific Northwest. The west side of the North American plate is being slowly compressed like a massive spring as the Juan de Fuca plate just off our coast shoves its way beneath it. Eventually, the North American plate will run out of its ability to squeeze and suddenly release, spring back to shape in an instant. On average, this happens every 240 years, meaning we are nearly 80 years overdue for our next disastrous earthquake. How bad? According to Brian Terbush, the Earthquake/Volcano Program Coordinator at the Washington State Emergency Management Division, “If that event were to occur tomorrow, it would likely be catastrophic.” In fact, it would likely be the worst natural disaster in American history with tens of thousands dead and millions displaced or without shelter. It could take between one and three months to restore electricity, up to a year for drinking water, and a year or more for highways, sewers, and healthcare services.
It sounds cataclysmic, and while the earthquake potential is getting more serious by the day, we are becoming more prepared by the day as well. Across the Northwest, tsunami evacuation facilities are being built, buildings are being retrofitted, and early warning systems are being implemented Terbush said, “This is an ongoing effort.”
Part of that ongoing effort is the Great ShakeOut annual earthquake drill, which Bellevue College participated in last Thursday, though you might not have noticed. The idea of Great ShakeOut was for people across the state to take 15 or 30 seconds to practice finding a place to take cover in an earthquake, which Terbrush said is the most important way individuals can be prepared. As far as the students surveyed could tell, however, no one did anything.
Yet for Bellevue College, students all over campus dropping and covering may not have been the expectation. “The goal of having the drill was to perform an annual emergency notifications test using our BC Alerts system and encourage the campus community to learn more about earthquake safety,” said Jared Woods, the coordinator for the drill. “Whether people participated or not was up to them – the main thing is to get folks thinking about it.”
If you’re interested in becoming more prepared for an earthquake, you can check out the ShakeOut website to learn about how to protect yourself during the shaking, and begin building an emergency kit to keep in your car for once the shaking stops — if a big quake hits, roads may become impassable and you may be unable to get home. You can also take a look at the emergency evacuation maps for Bellevue College, which also feature the location of 65+ ‘blue boxes’ around campus that contain food, water, and medical supplies.
Our overdue disaster may be scary, but when Terbush was asked if we are prepared for a catastrophic earthquake he replied that if we’re adequately prepared, it won’t be a catastrophe.