Skip to main content
Geosciences LibreTexts

7.5.4: Washington

  • Page ID
    6452
  • Overview

    The Washington counterpart of FEMA and coordinator of the Washington Earthquake Program is the Emergency Management Division (EMD), part of the Washington Military Department. A Seismic Safety Committee, part of the Emergency Management Council, reviews state earthquake strategies, with the most recent update in February 2002, after the Nisqually Earthquake. The EMD collaborates with FEMA in offering courses to the public and private sector on using the HAZUS loss estimation modeling software. EMD also developed an All Hazard Planning Guide for Washington schools. Since the earthquake, the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program provided several grants for seismic retrofit of three water districts, two schools, and a fire department. In addition, the Department of Transportation conducted a retrofit of highway bridges that significantly reduced lifeline losses as a result of the Nisqually Earthquake. As in California, April is Disaster Preparedness Month, with the theme in 2003 “Prepare Because You Care,” featuring a statewide “Drop, Cover, and Hold” earthquake drill with more than a million citizens participating. Washington also participates in the ShakeOut exercise on October 15 of each year.

     

    The Division of Geology and Earth Resources (DGER), part of the Department of Natural Resources, was formed to evaluate mineral resources, like similar agencies in Oregon and California. Like those states, DGER has become more involved in evaluating hazards from earthquakes, landslides, and floods. Steve Palmer of DGER led a program to map urban areas subject to liquefaction and lateral spreading. As described elsewhere, these maps were tested by the Nisqually Earthquake. Palmer and his colleagues Wendy Gerstel and Tim Walsh were able to predict fairly well those areas that underwent liquefaction and lateral spreading in both Seattle and Olympia (Fig. 8-16). Liquefaction susceptibility maps are in preparation for other cities in western Washington. In addition, DGER has a grant from the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program to produce a state map showing liquefaction susceptibility and soil characteristics.

     

    In 1990, Washington passed its Growth Management Act to require comprehensive planning in its most rapidly growing counties and cities. This act required these cities and counties to designate and protect critical areas subject to geological hazards, including landslides and earthquakes. In 1991, the act was broadened to require the designation of critical areas in all Washington’s cities and counties. The dampening effect this law has had on rapid development around metropolitan areas has led to attempts to amend it in the legislature, and even to repeal it outright.

     

    Unlike California, where the state was proactive in upgrading building codes and grading ordinances, Washington has left much of this to local jurisdictions. For example, there is no state requirement that school districts implement programs to improve the earthquake safety of school buildings. Rural counties and small cities in western Washington, including school districts, have lagged behind the metropolitan centers of Puget Sound, especially Seattle, which has standards that are comparable to those in metropolitan areas of California. Because the Seattle-Olympia area had experienced damaging earthquakes in 1949, 1965, and 2001, school buildings had already been reinforced against earthquakes to a greater extent than in Oregon to the south.

     

    Nearly half of the total damage to Washington schools in the 1949 earthquake was in Seattle; twenty-one schools had to be replaced or repaired. Additional damage to schools was sustained in the 1965 earthquake. Following the 1965 earthquake, the Seattle Public School District began to evaluate its schools for seismic risk, and by 1998, the district was in the final phase of implementing $40 million in capital improvements addressing earthquake hazards. In 1988, the Superintendent of Public Instruction issued a manual, Mitigation of School Earthquake Hazards, that was updated in 1998. Funds from FEMA’s Project Impact were used to remove overhead hazards, especially overhead flush tanks in restrooms that would pose a danger if they collapsed into a classroom on a lower floor. In addition, funds were used to train maintenance staff to work on nonstructural hazards; these teams are supported by volunteers. At the time of the Nisqually Earthquake, seven schools had been retrofitted by volunteers during Saturday work parties; no injuries or damage was reported at any of these schools during the earthquake.

     

    FEMA designated the city of Seattle as a Project Impact community with an initial grant of $1 million to develop its own earthquake and landslide hazard mitigation program. At the outset, Seattle had 125,000 old houses built prior to requirements that they are bolted to their foundations, with an additional 125,000 houses in King County, outside the city limits. Project Impact has resulted in a program of educating citizens in retrofitting their residences, businesses, and schools and in developing emergency plans. The Seattle Emergency Management office, part of the police department, provides home repair kits, conducts repair workshops, and maintains an approved list of contractors who have the skills to do earthquake retrofits. A special program is in place for businesses. The role of volunteers is critical; the Seattle Disaster Aid and Response Teams (SDART) educate neighborhoods in organizing themselves against a disaster (see Chapter 15). In addition, hazardous areas in the city are being mapped by the USGS and scientists from the University of Washington to identify those areas where special precautions need to be taken in development. Seattle has exported this information to eighteen surrounding cities and counties.

     

    The city of Bellevue is not a Project Impact community, but it has been proactive in earthquake preparedness just as Seattle has. The city’s emergency preparedness division is part of the fire department. Retrofitting of homes is encouraged through speeding up the permit process and helping homeowners obtain low-interest loans for retrofitting. The city has an All-Hazards Emergency Plan, responding to severe weather as well as to earthquakes. A project called Strengthening Preparedness Among Neighbors (SPAN) develops emergency plans in neighborhoods, electing team captains and meeting four times a year to review preparedness plans. In alternate years, the city conducts a seven-hour full-scale drill.

     

    DGER and EMD have a tsunami mitigation program for those coastal areas of southwest Washington that are at risk from tsunamis. Inundation maps from a tsunami generated by a subduction-zone earthquake have been prepared. In cooperation with NOAA’s TIME program, tsunami modeling is underway for a tsunami generated by an earthquake on the Seattle Fault, and DGER has published a map with those results. The tsunami potential of the Seattle waterfront has also been evaluated. Maps of Neah Bay, Quileute River, Port Orchard, Port Townsend, and Port Angeles are on the DGER Web page; maps of Bellingham, Anacortes, and Whidbey Island are in preparation. In 2003, the city of Long Beach and the Quinault Nation were recognized as Tsunami Ready and Storm Ready communities. The Quinault Nation was the first Native American nation to receive this award.