New earthquake map shows Washington’s at-risk buildings

Mar 27, 2019, 1:32 PM | Updated: Mar 28, 2019, 1:05 pm

Bellevue will mostly be OK, but Seattle will crumble if the big one hits. Yakima won’t be pretty after an earthquake either.

Washington state has a new interactive map to help determine how dangerous your community will be when the big one hits. Zooming in and out on the map shows which buildings are most at risk during an earthquake — unreinforced masonry buildings (URMs).

“What this database does is start to display the magnitude of the problem we have,” said Brian Terbush in a blog post from Gov. Jay Inslee.

Terbush is an earthquake expert for the Washington State Military Department’s Emergency Management Division.

“With this information, we know we have to work together to figure out what the next step is,” he said.

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The map gets down to the building itself with information about when it was made, how it was built, and more. URMs are notably more dangerous as they are likely to break apart and send bricks, concrete, and other material falling to the ground.

As Gov. Inslee’s recent post on Medium states: “The database  —  while not comprehensive — presents a list and map of potentially unreinforced masonry buildings, or URMs, throughout the state.”

The map is a product of Inslee’s subcabinet committee on seismic safety — earthquakes, tsunamis, wildfires, and other natural disasters. It’s important to note that the map shows “suspected” and “identified” URMs. If the building is listed, there is a chance it has been reinforced or upgraded.

Another interesting feature is that the map can filter by construction date, going back to 1800. The oldest building on the list was constructed in 1818 — the Fort Nez Perce / Fort Walla site.

URM buildings

There are a few standout communities with a fair share of buildings on the map, given their size. That list includes Bainbridge Island with 13, and Bremerton with 34 buildings. Bothell has 44. And that’s just skimming the Bs on the list.

It can also be divided by Eastern and Western Washington (split by the Cascades). The west side has 3,904; the east side has 2,492.

MyNorthwest’s Earthquake Tracker

The Evergreen state’s metropolis of Seattle has, by far, the most at-risk buildings — about 1,500 —  according to the governor’s office. The heaviest concentrations are in the downtown/South Lake Union/Belltown/Capitol Hill area with about 561. The University District has a fair share with about 75 buildings.

Seattle, for example, has identified about 1,500 masonry buildings that matched the criteria. Even though some of the URM buildings have been reinforced, they remain in the database for earthquake preparedness and response purposes.

Here are a few other notable Washington cities (and the areas immediately around them):

  • Bellevue: 4
  • Bellingham: 211
  • Ellensburg: 82
  • Everett: 171
  • Issaquah: 4
  • Kirkland: 10
  • Olympia: 195
  • Renton: 26
  • Spokane: 572
  • Tacoma: 350
  • Vancouver: 286
  • Vashon Island: 6
  • Wenatchee:  95
  • Yakima: 542

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New earthquake map shows Washington’s at-risk buildings