Whatcom County given ‘a gentle reminder that we live in earthquake country’

Take small steps now before ‘The Big One’ hits

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says preparedness is everyone’s job. Service providers, businesses, civic and volunteer groups, industry associations and neighborhood associations, as well as individuals, should plan ahead for disasters.
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The Federal Emergency Management Agency says preparedness is everyone’s job. Service providers, businesses, civic and volunteer groups, industry associations and neighborhood associations, as well as individuals, should plan ahead for disasters.

Though Friday’s earthquakes near Monroe — headlined by a 4.6 magnitude temblor shortly before 3 a.m. — were relatively small, it served as a wake-up call to the entire Puget Sound region that the “Big One” will likely strike some day.

“The small 4.6 earthquake Friday morning in Snohomish County is a gentle reminder that we live in earthquake country,” Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management director John Gargett said in a Whatcom Unified Emergency Coordination Center news release Friday, July 12.

As a reminder of that, Gargett noted that since June 14 the region has had nine earthquakes in Sudden Valley, Friday Harbor, Sedro-Woolley, Big Lake, Warm Beach and Langford, B.C.

“Those have been too small to feel, but someday in our lifetime we may have a larger earthquake; it is a geologic certainty,” Gargett said. “We just do not know when or how big.”

The last sizable shaker to strike in Whatcom County, according to The Bellingham Herald archives and the Washington Department of Natural Resources, was a 5.2 earthquake in 1990 that was centered near Deming.

The DNR said the state has seen 15 earthquakes with magnitudes larger than 5.0 since 1870, when modern record-keeping began.

The most recent large one to shake the Seattle area, according to the DNR, occurred in 2001, when the 6.8 magnitude Nisqually quake happened just north of Olympia. That quake caused some injuries and widespread damage, including to the air traffic control tower at Sea-Tac Airport.

Smaller events such as Friday’s earthquake make many wonder what an even bigger earthquake in the region would be like in Whatcom County.

“While we always hear about the ‘Big One – the 9.0 Cascadia Event,’ all the modeling shows that Whatcom County may not be as affected as other parts of our state, and in fact, in the National Guard plan for a Cascadia event, Whatcom County may well be a resupply point for communities south,” Gargett said.

Though Whatcom County may not feel the brunt of the “Big One,” Gargett said local faults near Kendall or Birch Bay could still generate events similar in size to the 2001 Nisqually quake in our own backyard.

“For example, the Boulder Creek Fault near Maple Falls and Kendall could be as large as 6.8, yet has the potential to do much more damage than a Cascadia event,” Gargett said. “The Devil’s Mountain fault just south of us in Skagit County, or the South Whidbey fault, all could cause significant damage here.”

Gargett said the DNR Geologic Informational Portal, available online, gives a good indication of the faults in our area and what we could expect.

While understanding the dangers is the first step, actually doing something to prepare to survive an earthquake and its potential aftermath is most important.

“Earthquakes can strike at any time, and everyone needs to ‘Be Prepared,” at home, at school, in the workplace, while shopping, in houses of worship or just taking a walk in the park,” Gargett said in the release. “Mother Nature does not pay any attention to the calendar, the weather or the readiness of our communities. Being prepared is a small investment of time, money and energy that will help protect you, your family and our community.”

The Whatcom Unified Emergency Coordination Center website has information on how to be prepared in the home, at school and at work.

In the home, the website suggests:

Survey: Analyze your home and family and look for things that might pose a danger during an earthquake. Also, learn how to shut off utilities and discuss earthquakes with your family.

Supply: Have extra food and water available. Keep a first aid kit and medicine handy and gas tanks full. Have blankets, sleeping bags and warm clothes on hand.

Reach out: Get to know your neighbors, neighborhood and community and how you can help each other through an emergency.

At school, the website suggests:

Research: Find out if your school’s emergency plan addresses earthquakes and if first responders have trained in the school for earthquakes. Also, find out what the communication plan is following an earthquake.

Evaluate: Find out if the buildings are up to earthquake code, if there are enough emergency supplies for multiple days and if school staff have been trained for emergency response to earthquakes.

Participate: Work with the school to update the plan and volunteer to be a role player in school emergency exercises. Also, educate your kids, other students and yourself on earthquakes.

At work, the website suggests:

Plan: Identify and know safe zones, refuge points and assembly areas and how to safely shut down your workplace or factory floor. Understand how to account for co-workers and staff.

Equip: Build personal and department earthquake kits and provide staff with protective and emergency equipment. Also take measures to protect equipment and furniture.

Train: Learn how to assess the workplace following an earthquake and conduct regular earthquake exercises. Also, participate in or start regular safety meetings.

“(Earthquakes) have occurred. They will occur again. We don’t know when, we don’t know where, and we don’t know how big,” Gargett said in the release. “However, we do know that we can do things to both mitigate and prepare for what will inevitably happen.”

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David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.