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FEMA Prepares for 9.0 Magnitude Earthquake Off Washington’s Coast

Zach Miller | JUN 12, 2016

"A basic emergency kit in homes, in cars, in offices, is absolutely essential for everybody who lives (here),” said WA Governor Jay Inslee on Tuesday, speaking to media as emergency responders and soldiers executed a megaquake reponse drill this week. Its the largest seismic event drill ever to be ran in the Pacific Northwest, and comes in response to local calls to prepare. As he speaks, flanked by military officials, he points to a two-story building, saying that tsuanami waves would be even higher.

 The region-wide drill is called Cascadia Rising, and it is designed to test regional preparedness for a giant, costal earthquake of 8-9 magnitude. FEMA projects that nearly 13,000 people will die in Cascadia earthquake and tsunami. Another 27,000 will be injured, and the agency expects it will need to provide shelter for 1 million displaced people, and food and water for another 2.5 million. That would make Hurricane Katrina or Sandy look very tame in comparison.


A quake will happen--in fact it's actually overdue. There is no way to know when it will strike, but we do know that the Cascadia fault erupts on average every 243 years. It's been 315 years since the last eruption, making our region 73 years overdue. Experts put the odds of a major quake here in the next 50 years at one in three. There is, however, a 100% chance of another major earthquake occuring here at some point, which is why officials are preaching preparation to residents. 

Unlike California, whose famous San Andreas fault has ingrained the need for preparation, earthquake kits, evacuation plans, and stricter building codes, the Pacific Northwest is decades behind. After all, 30 years ago no one knew the Cascadia had even produced a major earthquake. 45 years ago, scientists didn't even know the subduction zone existed. 

FEMA, Washington state emergency agencies, and seismologists are asking every citizen to have their own plan ready. Each household should have food and water for a few days (at a minimum), a radio and communication tools that don't depend on the electric grid, shelter and warmth, first aid and hygiene items, tools to turn off utilities, and other essentials on hand. The popular  Earthquake Bag comes with versions for 1-5 people, and has extra tools specifically designed for this type of disaster, like gas shut-off tools, a pry bar, and more.

Experts estimate it will take I-5 corridor between one and three months after the earthquake to restore electricity, a month to a year to restore drinking water and sewer service, six months to a year to restore major highways, and eighteen months to restore health-care facilities. “Hundreds of thousands of people will have to wait days, weeks and months for their electricity to be restored,” Gov. Inslee said. And those estimates do not apply to the tsunami-inundation zone, which may remain uninhabitable for years.

“This is one time that I’m hoping all the science is wrong, and it won’t happen for another thousand years,” FEMA Regional Administrator Kenneth Murphy says.

You know you need one, so stop putting it off and get it done. It was important to me to have a smart, well-thought-out bag I could trust. If you don’t have time to track down the best tools and materials to do it right, I’ve made one for you. I call it The Earthquake Bag, and it’s my mission to make sure everyone either buys one of mine or builds one of their own. Everyone is safer when we all are more prepared individually.