How bad could it get when a major quake strikes Seattle? Let’s just say you had better plan on moving out of the area for some time.

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IF you think that an overturned propane tanker is bad news for road transportation, you have not seen anything yet. If you are a family, business or manufacturer, after a big earthquake you will be relocating out of the area just to survive.

At some future date there will be a significant earthquake that will hit this region. It could be the Cascadia Subduction Fault, the Seattle Fault, the Tacoma Fault, South Whidbey Island Fault or another earthquake fault we don’t even know exists. Imagine what the traffic impacts will be for the region when one mainline bridge collapses on any of the routes that are the lifeblood of this metro area. Remember, it is easily possible that more than one bridge might collapse and on multiple routes.

Then reflect that in California, following the Northridge earthquake, it took six months to rebuild one bridge — and they gave a verbal order to start tearing down the bridge the day after it collapsed. Atlanta is currently experiencing the impact of the I-85 bridge collapse due to a fire, and it not being available to carry 250,000 cars a day. Repair estimates are months, not weeks.

Ponder what the transportation environment will be when we lose one or more bridges. No one is moving anywhere because of our limited options for driving north-south or east-west through central Puget Sound. Trucking companies will not be making deliveries of food and other critical items like lifesaving prescriptions for those who need them. Port operations will cease. Our “just in time delivery system” will expose the fact that we live day-to-day on a razor thin margin of food, fuel and other critical supplies.

Given the e-economy, companies may be thinking that people can work from home and telecommute. The capacity of our landline and cellular communications will not support the demand surge.

The end result will be that people living in the metro area will not be able to sustain themselves for any period of time. Even with governments now recommending two weeks of disaster supply readiness, only a very tiny fraction of our population has obtained that level of readiness. Most people are not ready to be on their own for two hours, let alone two weeks.

What will happen then? There will be a spontaneous evacuation of the city of Seattle and other metro areas where supplies cannot be transported into the region. People will likely not be able to drive out, they will walk out … Imagine the scenes of refugees walking through European countries. You will need to walk to where there is a functional transportation network and then relocate you and your loved ones to family and friends out of the disaster zone.

For larger corporations, they will be implementing their business-continuity programs. If you are a manufacturing company — you will cease operations until you can move raw materials into your buildings and move finished products out of the region. E-commerce companies can function to some limited extent with people being trapped at home, but if the home is in the impacted area, staff will be relocating out of the region.

For small businesses with little capital and living from day to day, it will be bankruptcy, since they don’t have the financial resources to survive an extended business outage. The national figure used is that for any small business forced to close their doors for three days, 40 percent of them will eventually fail.

The only recommendation I can make for you is to come up with a relocation plan. Where can you relocate yourself and your immediate family? If you are a large corporation, consider where and how can you transfer critical operations and staff to another part of the nation for an extended period of time.

The propane tanker traffic issues and commute is a small foretaste of a much greater traffic nightmare that will eventually come.