Lawmakers at the state and federal levels should invest in early detection technology that would help Pacific Northwest residents prepare for when the big one comes.
THE Pacific Northwest is prone to earthquakes. That is not a news flash, although you wouldn’t know it from the response to last week’s New Yorker article on the prospects.
The risk of a massive shaker has been known for years, as noted in extensive reporting on the Cascadia Subduction Zone by Seattle Times science writer Sandi Doughton.
Last week, the New Yorker article went viral with claims that everything west of Interstate 5 would be “toast” when the big one comes. Though a dramatic statement, that is not quite the case. But, at least more people are taking an interest in earthquake preparedness.
For individuals, a reasonable response is to create emergency plans and kits at home and at work. Federal officials should fund an earthquake early-warning system. State leaders should be ready to alert and prepare residents.
A pilot early-detection system is being developed and tested in Washington, but it still gives out false alarms. John Vidale, director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network at the University of Washington, says about $17 million in annual funding would set up a fully operational and useful early-warning system in all three West Coast states.
Congress should pony up this money for the U.S. Geological Survey, which works closely with a seismic network that includes the University of Washington, University of California at Berkeley, the University of Oregon and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
Creating a system is one thing, but getting the message out quickly and educating the public on what to do is another priority that state lawmakers should consider when funding the state’s Emergency Management Division.
Vidale says studies indicate any kind of alert, whether seconds or minutes in advance, could save money and lower injury rates by about 10 percent — maybe more.
Other countries, including Japan, Romania, Mexico and Taiwan, have invested in early-warning systems. The United States ought to do the same.
More earthquakes are inevitable. The only option is to prepare and try to mitigate the damage.