Apparently for the past 30 years, government leaders in Washington have done the same thing over and over regarding the Seattle earthquake. Order a big study, ignore the findings and then repeat.
That was the message of a recent special report by the Seattle Times which looked back on the past 30 years of arm flailing and chest pounding and yet no action. The government has created a subcabinet but it has no budget, staff or regulatory authority — and simply creating the entity took more than three years with nothing to show for it. Ouch!
The Seattle Times reported that state elected officials for the past three decades have repeatedly directed seismic-safety experts to produce reports, all of which have called for action to reduce threats to public safety and the state’s economy. And time and time again, state politicians have largely ignored recommendations that require money or legislation to see them through to completion.
Previous reports have noted significant vulnerabilities:
- Five government reports since 1986 have urged Washington’s lawmakers to mandate seismic evaluations of public schools, where thousands of children attend classes in vulnerable buildings. Evaluations remain optional.
- Since 1991, the Legislature has been advised to require electric and water utilities to analyze their earthquake weaknesses. Washington still has no authority to compel the utilities to act.
- For at least 25 years, seismic committees have advocated more retrofits for state bridges. With nearly $200 million spent on the work, funding for the program has slowed to a trickle, even as 11.3 million vehicles a day drive over almost 500 bridges flagged for strengthening
This latest subcabinet won’t even address upgrading schools or protecting coastal communities from tsunamis because the governor narrowed its scope to focus on improving the state’s ability to respond in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.
Few states face the kind of catastrophic earthquakes that threaten Washington, and others are investing more to protect their communities. California leads the nation in earthquake risk and in measures to reduce it.
Since the late 1980s, scientists have warned policymakers about the threat of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, a 700-mile-long offshore fault that has unleashed some of the world’s most powerful earthquakes and tsunamis at intervals as short as 200 years. The most recent one occurred 317 years ago.
An end-to-end rupture of the Cascadia fault would cause the ground along much of the West Coast to convulse for up to five minutes, tearing apart pipelines, roads and buildings that haven’t been strengthened. A tsunami would slam coastal communities with surges 30 feet high or more, swallowing up anyone unable to reach high ground. Federal officials estimate that the death toll could exceed 10,000 and leave communities isolated and without basic needs for weeks or months.
The number of Washingtonians vulnerable to intense ground-shaking from a megaquake numbers 5.4 million as of 2014 — an increase of 1.6 million people since 1990.
This special report is a great read (unless of course you live in Seattle!). This blog post only lists a few of the issues raised by the Seattle Times. It is a powerful read and it you live or work in the area or your company is headquartered there, this is a must!
SEISMIC NEGLECT | More from the series:
- Overview: Washington’s earthquake risks
- Lessons from Christchurch: 4 key ways Seattle can prepare for earthquake devastation
- Earthquake-insurance prices soar in Washington, and companies hold all the power
- Buildings that kill: The earthquake danger lawmakers have ignored for decades
- Is your child safe? Washington does little to protect older schools from earthquakes
- Guide to earthquake preparedness | Tips for parents | How to prepare your home | What to do when it hits
- About the Seattle Times’ special report