Years after Nisqually quake: Are we ready for the ‘Big One’?

Feb 28, 2017, 3:40 PM | Updated: Feb 28, 2018, 8:11 am

It’s been years since the magnitude 6.8 Nisqually earthquake rattled the Pacific Northwest and awakened people to the dangers we face.

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The quake caused damage to hundreds of thousands of residences — one in every four, according to a study by the University of Washington. Damage to households was estimated at approximately $1.5 billion. Other studies put total damage estimates from $2 billion to nearly $4 billion.

Aftershocks followed the quake on March 1, including a magnitude 3.4 and magnitude 2.7 quake.

Structures damaged in the quake also included Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct. The state made $3.5 million in repairs to the viaduct and shuts the viaduct down twice per year to inspect the aging structure.

RELATED: What seven years of Seattle viaduct inspections have found

Seventeen years later and the viaduct is still in operation as the state works to build a tunnel to replace it, and cities across the state continue to struggle with the reality of dealing with a catastrophic earthquake.

As The Seattle Times reports, many of the state’s seismic-related priorities have been largely ignored. Thousands of people live in buildings that are vulnerable to earthquakes. More than 300,000 students attend school in buildings constructed before seismic standards. And the state’s infrastructure remains vulnerable as crews work to address aging structures — the Times reports more than 400 bridges need some kind of seismic retrofit.

The problem hasn’t been ignored. Gov. Jay Inslee announced the launch of a subcabinet dedicated to preparing us for the “Big One.”

“We know the question isn’t ‘if’ a large-scale earthquake will happen in our state, but how well we will be prepared,” Inslee said. “While there’s no way to fully anticipate all the impacts a large-scale earthquake will have on our infrastructure, we know that preparedness starts in every household and every community, and the response depends on cooperation and collaboration at all levels of government. This effort is about each of us building resilience and being ready.”

The problem is, there’s been a lot of talk and not much action.

During a meeting last year, subcabinet members said they weren’t provided enough resources. KIRO Radio’s Hanna Scott reported that, in a report, the Resilient Washington Subcabinet says it was constrained by a short time window, zero funding, and no additional staff.

It also says the governor told them to look for quick, cheap options, rather than long-term expensive recommendations.

The subcabinet says Washington state is well behind Oregon and California when it comes to seismic evaluations of schools and other important buildings, such as hospitals.

An analysis of a drill last year found the state’s disaster plans for a catastrophe are “inadequate” in many areas.

All the while tremors are quietly rumbling under us and the question remains: Will we be ready?

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Years after Nisqually quake: Are we ready for the ‘Big One’?