Can earthquakes be predicted?
Scientists say since the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, the level of seismic danger in the Pacific Northwest hasn't changed, but scientific ideas about the danger have evolved and the ability to study and prepare for it has improved immensely.
Scientists from the University of Washington and the U.S. Geological Survey have increased their knowledge about the three different types of non-volcanic earthquakes that occur in the Northwest, and are learning how unfelt "episodic tremor and slip" events relate to seismic risk. The number of seismic sensors and the territory they monitor has tripled, and engineering standards have improved to meet the region's seismic risks.
John Vidale, a UW Earth and space sciences professor and current director of the seismic network, says scientists here and around the world are trying to devise methods to predict earthquakes"but right now we can't even see how that might work," Vidale said. In addition, there are hopes for refined forecasting ability, based on historic patterns and general probability, he said.
It also is possible now to develop an early warning system, using data from sensors close to an earthquake source to determine which direction the waves will go and how strong the shaking might be. Such systems are already being used in Japan, Mexico and elsewhere.
"That could give people advance warning ranging from a few seconds to a few minutes," Vidale said. "The question is whether it is worth the financial cost."
When the Big One hits, how many of our local bridges will make in through intact?
A study was done looking from the Port of Tacoma to the Port of Seattle to identify what bridges might fail. In the worst-case scenario for a Seattle Fault magnitude-7 earthquake, 22 mainline bridges, which carry the traffic on those major routes, have 75 percent to 100 percent possible failure in that magnitude earthquake. More important that the number of bridges damaged is the potential for the I-5 corridor to be closed for months following a quake.
Shouldn't I run out of my house when the earthquake starts?
No. One of the great myths of an earthquake is that all the buildings collapse. Actually, in the United States, we don't see a lot of building collapse, especially when you compare it to the number of buildings that are impacted by the quake. The building standards in the United States are designed, at a minimum, to protect life. In other words, the structural part of the building will perform to a standard that will withstand the quake and allow people to safely evacuate afterwards. It's not building collapse that kills and injures most people in an earthquake - it's how we decorate the interior and exterior of the buildings. Even when there is building collapse, victims are rescued in what are called "void spaces". These spaces are usually around heavy furnishings such as desks and tables. Another interesting fact is that about one-third of all injuries occur to leg bones, due to people running during the shaking. To increase your likelihood of surviving any size quake, Drop, Cover and Hold under a desk or table within the first three to four seconds of shaking. Stay there until the shaking stops. Doorways are not a recommended safe place to be in an earthquake. It's difficult to stay in the doorway during the shaking and the door often causes injury when it swings open and closed during the shaking.
Where should I stay in my house during an earthquake?
When the earth shakes, Drop to the ground, cover under a desk or table and hold on to the desk or table so it doesn't bounce away. Stay there until the shaking stops. If there's no table around, think "Beside, Beneath, Between"! Sit BESIDE an inside wall. Lay BESIDE the couch & Hold on. Crouch low BETWEEN furniture. Whenever possible, get low BENEATH a sturdy table, desk or other furniture to protect you. Stay away from brick fireplaces because they have a tendency to collapse.
What do I do if I'm in bed when the earthquake hits?
First, only hang light-weight objects above your bed that have also been properly secured in place. Second, store near or underneath your bed a pair of sturdy-sole shoes and a flashlight. When the shaking starts, quickly crawl out of bed and onto the floor, then lie beside your bed and hold on. DO NOT GO UNDERNEATH YOUR BED. After the shaking stops, put on your shoes to protect your feel from broken glass and objects, a common injury in California earthquakes. Next, check on family members and decide your next course of action.
WWhat if I'm in a crowded store or other public place?
Move away from display shelves containing objects that could fall. Do not rush for the exit. If there's no table or desk around, think "Beside, Beneath, Between"! Sit BESIDE an inside wall. Crouch low BETWEEN the rows of chairs in a movie theater, church or stadium. Get low BESIDE AND BENEATH the level of a grocery cart in the supermarket.
What do I do if I’m walking outside when the earthquake comes?
When outdoors, move to a clear area away from trees, signs, buildings, or electrical wires and poles. If you are on a sidewalk near a building, move away from any possible falling brick, glass, plaster and other debris. If possible take cover, stay low, and protect your head and neck. Falling debris is a real danger when you're near buildings, such as unreinforced parapets and decorations or just the window glass. Stay away from brick chimneys because they are especially susceptible to toppling during an earthquake like they did during the 2001 Nisqually quake.
What's wrong with standing in a doorway?
Doorways are not a recommended safe place to be in an earthquake. It's difficult to stay in the doorway during the shaking and the door often causes injury when it swings open and closed during the shaking. Drop, Cover and Hold is the safest action during a quake. When the earth shakes, Drop to the ground, Cover under a desk or table and hold on to the desk or table so it doesn't bounce away. Stay there until the shaking stops. You do not want to be a target in a room as objects are flying and the room is shaking. Keep your head lower than the next highest surface, like a table or piece of furniture. Children learn Drop, Cover and Hold in school. Adults and children alike should practice what to do to assist them in reacting quickly in a quake and to reinforce all NOT to run for the doorway - you will likely be hurt. This information needs to be shared with all adults as many don't know about Drop, Cover and Hold.
What do I do if I’m in my car?
Pull your car over to the side of the road as quickly and safely as possible - but do NOT pull over and stop until you are clear of bridges, overpasses, power poles, and power lines. After you stop, stay in your car. It's a good idea to have an emergency supplies kit in your car as you may get stranded for a while if the roads are damaged or are closed to emergency vehicles only. It's also a good idea to keep your gas tank full as there may not be power at gas stations for a while. So, if you need to walk home, have those comfortable shoes handy in your car kit.
In the event of an earthquake, should I immediately turn off my gas?
Only shut off your gas if you smell gas or suspect a leak. Also, if there is any visible damage to your gas lines or gas appliances, turn off the gas. If everyone in King County immediately turned off their gas, it could take Puget Sound Energy months to restore everyone's service. If you do turn off your gas, NEVER turn it back on yourself. Instead, let your gas company handle turning it back on. Contact your gas company for additional information, how and when to turn off the gas.
How can I tell if I should shut off my electricity?
Only turn off the power at the main circuit breaker panel IF: there is any evidence of arcing or sparking, you smell smoke, or suspect that the wiring has been damaged. Unlike with gas, if your turned off your power, you can turn your electricity back on yourself.
Should I turn off my water?
It depends, but generally yes. This will protect your water supply in your water heater and toilet tanks from outside contamination. Also, turn it off if there is evidence that your pipes have been damaged or if you experience a loss of water pressure. Like power, water is a utility that you can always turn back on after assuring that there is no damage or contamination. Another way to protect your water supply is before the quake to properly secure your water heater, but make sure you don't use plumber's tape, you use heavy-gauge metal strapping, and the straps go around the tank 1 1/2 times then into wall studs.
How can I check on my family after the earthquake?
As a part of your personal & family disaster plan, have a designated family meeting place and ask an out-of-state friend to be your contact person. This person should live at least 100 miles away from you. Give this number to everyone in your family, so each can call the contact then relay their location and information. As each family member calls in, they will be updated to the status of the rest of the family. It is typically easier to make a long distance call than a local one after an earthquake. Tape the coins needed to use a pay phone onto the back of the out-of-area contact number.
What about my pets?
Pets will be disoriented and confused and may exhibit unusual behavior. They will require extra care and attention. Plan to set up a separate location for each animal because disasters stress animals. Even a gentle pet can exhibit distressed behaviors. Bring pets inside immediately, as it might stop them from running away. Decide on a safe location that is easy to clean, such as a utility room or bathroom - avoid rooms with hazards such as windows, hanging plants and pictures. If you evacuate and have to leave your pet at home, leave a 3-day supply of dry food and water. If you are taking your pet with you, remember to bring the food, water, and the pet's medical records & medicines. If your pet is injured, you may be the only immediate source of help available. Also, pets will NOT be allowed in public emergency shelters, for health and safety reasons.
What are the essentials we need to be prepared for an earthquake?
Prepare an emergency supplies kit for home, work, car, and wherever you may be for a minimum of 3 days. First, keep at least a 3-day supply of water for each person in your household. Two-liter soda pop bottles work great - which means 3 gallons (or six bottles) per person. Change water out every 6 months. Second, store a minimum 3-day supply of non-perishable food that requires no refrigeration or cooking. Third, have first aid supplies to cover possible injuries. Fourth, have tools & supplies such as flashlight, batteries, whistle, and duct tape. Fifth, add special items such as needed prescription medication, contact lens solutions, diapers, copies of insurance polices and records. Next, add clothing & bedding. Place your emergency supplies in a portable container able to withstand moisture, insects, and some quake damage. Plan to rotate the items in your kit annually - like making sure the clothes still fit.
Following an emergency or disaster, what should I do if I’m unable to meet my basic needs?
While not immediately available, some assistance may be available in the days following an earthquake. This is why it is so important for individuals to do everything possible to be prepared to address your needs for a minimum of 3-days - BEFORE the quake. Emergency assistance through voluntary agencies will be available to everyone affected by a disaster without regard to citizenship or other status. As these services become available, their contact information will be announced through your local jurisdictions and the media.
How can I find out if I’m eligible for government help?
If a Presidential Disaster is declared, that allows for federal money to assist disaster victims. The only way to know if you are eligible is to call the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) toll-free assistance line and register. The number is 1-800-621-3362 (FEMA), or TTY 1-800-462-7585 if you are speech or hearing impaired. You must register within the 60-day application period even if you don't see any visible damage or think insurance might cover your losses. Once the 60-day window closes, if you have not registered and now need assistance, it is too late. Registering is free and there is no-obligation. Assistance comes in the form of small grants and low-interest loans, but these funds will not cover all your losses. So, being prepared ahead of time and securing your home and belongings helps to minimize injuries, damage, and loss.
Answers provided by: Ines Pearce & LuAn Johnson, City of Seattle Emergency Management. Call (206) 233-5076