Watching the news this week has been difficult. Natural disasters have wreaked havoc across the world, between floods and fires in the US and the 6.3-magnitude earthquake in Italy. Living in the PNW can make someone hyper-aware of the danger of natural disasters, and our hearts go out to the families who’ve lost loved ones, their homes, or both.
Human beings adapt. We learn from disaster, and we plan and prepare with the knowledge we gain. We-the-living respect the victims of tragedy by pulling together and using our brains to improve our situation. It can be hard to imagine disaster striking where we live, but living in the PNW means being smart enough to bring a raincoat even while the sun is still out- we can’t see the threat, but we know it’s there.
Where’s The Danger?
The Italy earthquake “is a difficult and powerful reminder that we also face earthquake risk here in the Pacific Northwest”, said Red Cross spokeswoman Monique Gugaw. Italy’s 6.2 magnitude struck at 3:36 am, and was followed by a string of powerful aftershocks that flattened buildings and structures. Places where picturesque churches, lovely homes and neat storefronts stood days ago are now just a heap of rubble. Before and after pictures show literal tons of debris piled up over building foundations.
The quake was a result of two tectonic plates being forced into one another. The same forces threaten Washington and Oregon and make the PNW one of the most dangerous seismic regions in the world, except our earthquakes are bigger and more dangerous. For reference, the 9.0-magnitude earthquake experts warn of here would give off 11,220 times the energy that Italy’s 6.3 did. It’s a scary prospect.
A Lesson in Preparedness
Italy suffered from a lack of civic preparedness, as well as the difficulty of emergency response in a remote region. But the earthquake probability in the area wasn’t a surprise- the region sits on fault lines that collide between Africa and Europe. Italy has had several moderate earthquakes in the region in the past 20 years to put folks on notice. To top it off, there was an earthquake in 1703 in almost exactly the same place with the same trending fault. Of course, it can be difficult to imagine major disasters on such a long time scale, and Italy hadn’t fully prepared. We face the same challenge with the 300 year + cycle of the Cascadia Subduction Zone.
Oregon and Washington face a similar but more serious problem. Our largest population centers straddle individual faults and are in proximity to the largest potential seismic energy in North America. While the Italians can look back through earthquake records dating to the Romans, we’ve only recently begun to understand our risks.The latest 9.0 earthquake here was before European civilization had settled out region back in 1701, and scientists only learned about the danger as recently as the 1990’s.
As a result, PNW communities, government agencies, and individuals have only started to think about Earthquake preparedness. In June, FEMA state emergency agencies and the National Guard ran an exercise to simulate a 9.0 earthquake to practice a coordinated response, but that’s only a start. Recent reports from FEMA and the Department of Transportation have reported that a major quake could threaten 90% of our fuel supply, that half of our bridges would collapse, and that emergency response agencies are vastly undermanned for a major disaster. We've only begun to respond.
Self-Sufficiency the Key to Prepare
When asked about emergency and earthquake preparedness, President Obama cautioned that “Government plays a vital role, but it is every citizen’s responsibility to be prepared for a disaster.” Especially with our disaster response agencies underfunded and undermanned, it’s crucial for our whole region that individual homes prepare a plan and the tools to survive after a major event.
Emergency agencies ask that every household prepare an earthquake kit packed to get your family through at least the first few days after an emergency. This needs to include food and water, communication tools (like a hand-crank radio), light, shelter and warmth, and tools built for emergencies. We've written a guide on how to build your own earthquake kit- check it out HERE.
We sell Earthquake Bags, so it’s obvious we think preparing is essential. We are happy to provide the best kits available if you can’t build your own, and we've donated hundreds by donating $10 for every bag sold in August to the Italian Red Cross relief efforts.But more than anything, we want to make sure every one of our neighbors has the food, water and tools to be self-sufficient after a major earthquake, so please buy or build your own!
“What people really need to be thinking about is how to be as self-sufficient as possible,” said the Chief Hazard Geologist at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources. “It’s very fair to point at what’s happened with Hurricane Sandy. You need to have a plan and be ready to be an island unto yourself.”
Thousands of people in Oregon & Washington have one of our bags in their home, car or office. check out our most popular Earthquake Bag below and check earthquake prep off your overdue list.