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Disaster Awareness

Prepare for a Year - June

This is the sixth of a series of short action articles that will enable you, over the next 12 months, to better take care of your family, friends, neighbors, and yourself in times of disaster. There is no guarantee that the 72 hour emergency kit recommended in the April article will be enough if the consequences of a disaster are extended. Consider supplemental supplies and make a checklist. Useful items include: extra flashlights and batteries, camp lantern, sleeping bags, rain gear, camp stove, battery powered radio, pet needs, etc. Never cook with charcoal in an enclosed space. Pets have modest needs and some, especially dogs, seem to enjoy drinking from the toilet bowl. Food is a major, easily satisfied requirement. Be aware of rising temperatures of frozen and refrigerated foods. When in doubt; throw it out. Canned foods are ready to eat uncooked, cold is safe, and most household have reasonable supplies. Individualize and amend your list and keep it handy (in hard copy.) If you have been acting upon these preparation articles; you are well on your way to mitigating the consequences of disasters that will affect your family.

Prepare for a Year - May

This is the fifth of a series of short action articles that will enable you, over the next 12 months, to better take care of your family, friends, neighbors, and yourself in times of disaster. After a disaster, you will need to resume your financial affairs and, perhaps, submit applications for assistance; documents play a major role. Copies of insurance papers (home, auto, boat, etc.) and agent contact phone numbers plus photos of damages can expedite processing of any claims. Medical and dental policies and ID cards can speed treatment. Copies of financial account documents as well as wills, powers-of-attorney can help with your longer term recovery. Your cell phone or computer may not be available so it may be useful to have a list of important phone numbers for work, schools, etc. for family, friends, and relatives. A safe deposit box in a bank might be a good storage option; or closer to home place documents in a plastic bag and put in your freezer. Yes, freezer contents can normally survive house fires. If you have been acting upon these preparation articles; you are well on your way to mitigating the consequences of disasters that will affect your family.

The Olympian: Area’s earthquake risk high, experts warn.

The disaster in Chile has brought new attention to an undersea fault along the Pacific Northwest capable of producing the same type of mega earthquake and inflicting heavy damage on bustling cities from Portland to Vancouver, B.C.

The fault has been dormant for more than 300 years, but when it awakens – tomorrow or decades from now – the consequences could be devastating. The last rupture unleashed the largest known quake to hit the Lower 48 – a magnitude-9 in 1700 that sent tsunami waves crashing into Japanese coastal villages.

Recent computer simulations of a hypothetical magnitude-9 quake found that shaking could last 2 to 5 minutes – strong enough to potentially cause poorly constructed buildings from British Columbia to Northern California to collapse and severely damage highways and bridges.

Such a quake also would send powerful waves rushing to shore in minutes. While big cities such as Portland and Seattle would be protected from severe flooding, low-lying seaside communities might not be as lucky.

The Northwest “has a long geological history of doing exactly what happened in Chile,” said Brian Atwater, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and University of Washington. “It’s not a matter of if but when the next one will happen.”

The Northwest fault behaves much like the one that broke offshore Chile that triggered a magnitude-8.8 quake. Shaking lasted 21/2 minutes and destroyed or badly damaged 500,000 homes.

Located just 50 miles off the coast, the 680-mile-long Cascadia fault is part of several seismic hotspots around the globe where plates of the Earth’s crust grind and dive.

These so-called subduction zones give rise to mountain ranges, ocean trenches and volcanic arcs, but also spawn the largest quakes on the planet.

There’s an 80 percent chance the portion of the fault off southern Oregon and Northern California would break in the next 50 years and produce a megaquake.

The odds of rupture are lower for the northern end, mainly including Washington and Vancouver island, with a 27 percent chance during the same time period, according to calculations by Chris Goldfinger who heads the Active Tectonics and Seafloor Mapping Laboratory at Oregon State University.

Research presented last year at a seismology conference found that Seattle’s high-rises built before 1994 when stricter building codes took effect were at high risk of collapse during a megaquake.

Disaster managers in Oregon and Washington are aware of the risks and work is ongoing to shore up schools, hospitals and other buildings to withstand a seismic jolt.

“We’re definitely being proactive in trying to get those fixed, but we have a long way to go,” said Yumei Wang, geohazards team leader with the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries.

Oregon has 1,300 schools and public safety buildings that are at high risk of collapse during a major quake. The state recently doled out $15 million to two dozen schools and emergency facilities to start the retrofit process. State law requires that all poorly built public safety buildings be upgraded by 2022 and public schools by 2032.

The state is also helping its coastal communities – home to 100,000 residents – plan for vertical evacuation buildings that could withstand giant tsunami waves.

Seattle plans to retrofit its 34 fire stations. The city is also working on a plan to upgrade 600 buildings considered most at risk.

“We have been preparing aggressively,” said Barb Graff, who heads the city’s Office of Emergency Management.

The Chilean quake occurred in an offshore region that was under increased stress caused by a 1960 magnitude-9.5 quake – the largest recorded in history, according to geologist Jian Lin of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Similar tectonic forces are at play off the Pacific Northwest where the Juan de Fuca plate is diving beneath North America. At some point, centuries of pent-up stress will cause the plates to slip. Scientists cannot predict exactly when a quake will occur, only that one will happen.

The region is all too familiar with violent earthquakes. In 2001, a 6.8-magnitude quake centered near Olympia rattled a swath of the Pacific Northwest, but remarkably caused no deaths.

While it was not the type of quake that hit Chile, it was a reminder of how a big disaster could strike at any time.

To better understand megaquakes, a group of scientists planned to travel to Chile in May for a conference on giant earthquakes and their tsunamis. There are field trips planned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1960 Chile quake.


An Importnat Message From The Department of Homeland Secuirty

The images from Haiti continue to illustrate the devastating impact of natural disasters. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is working hard to support the international response effort to help our neighbors recover from this tragedy.

Emergency preparation may not be possible for every individual, or for every type of emergency, but we cannot overstate the importance of preparedness planning. The U.S. federal government, along with many of our partners in the private sector, provides abundant resources for preparing your family for disasters. We encourage you to utilize these resources and prepare your family to the fullest extent you can.

If you live in a region prone to earthquakes, you are probably aware of the risks they pose. Knowing the risks within your community is the first step in evaluating the preparedness level of your family. DHS encourages you to research the potential risks in your area, evaluate how you should best respond, and prepare your family accordingly. Forethought and planning will help you make sound decisions during a crisis and keep your family safe.

Consider the following tips for preparing your family for emergencies:

  • Visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website and click any state to see the common local risks and how to best respond.
  • Find out what your community is doing to prepare for emergencies and volunteer.
    Visit the websites of organizations and government programs like, Citizen Corps, and the National Safety Council and utilize the resources they provide.
  • Subscribe to the free Citizen Corps news email service for community preparedness news and updates.
  • Visit the website of the Home Safety Council to learn how you can make your home safer for you and your family.
  • Take classes in lifesaving skills, such as CPR/AED and first aid, or in emergency response, such as CERT
  • Work with parent-teacher organizations to discuss how you can support their emergency plans and drills. The Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools and Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools will have information on school emergency preparedness and response.
  • Help children prepare for emergencies at their own pace and maturity level.
  • Monetary contributions remain the best way to support the relief efforts in Haiti. Visit for more information or to make a contribution.
  • If you are seeking information on family members in Haiti, contact: U.S. Department of State 1-888-407-4747

For more information on how you can help the ongoing response and recovery efforts in Haiti, visit

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