Friday, January 27, 2012

Meeting of Minds on Earthquakes

Though I was only able to spend a couple of hours this morning at the summit arranged by PNWER, it was a great turnout of both government emergency managers at the city, county, state and federal level; as well as the business continuity experts from companies like Microsoft, T-Mobile, Puget Sound Energy, PACCAR, Safeway, Liberty Mutual, BECU, Costco, Starbucks, Pinkerton and other regional players.

We know that the probability of a Cascadia mega-quake like Chile's 8.8M or Japan's 9.1M event is relatively low in this area over the next 50 years --  lower than I thought -- but we also know that we live on the Cascadia fault line, and that an earthquake is probably the worst case natural disaster we can imagine for the area.  The percentages of probability are higher on a deep magnitude 6.5 earthquake -- about 84%.  Earthquake scenario planning events are widespread this year as planning efforts mature nationally on the government side of emergency management.

The keynote address was delivered by Bill Steele, from the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network at the University of Washington.  He was able to make the impacts of different magnitudes of earthquakes clear to everyone in the room.  So many of the monitoring and alert tools now being developed rely upon the Internet, so there was a question of whether or not the Internet would be available in a catastrophic event.  So far, at least in Chile and Japan, the monitoring devices and alert systems stayed live.

Here's a picture of the fault zones in our area.  Bill described Seattle and Bellevue as being part of the "Puget Sound Squeeze Box," and the picture illustrates why.  The Seattle Basin area in particular will be subjected to higher amplitude and longer duration of shaking.

The purpose of today's summit is to improve overall resilience of the region.  Where earthquakes are concerned, the goal today is to start defining what improvements in economic and business recovery would look like for the private sector.   This is truly where government can't do it for us, it's the private sector that must step up.

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