The RiverStyx Foundation does not shy away from the controversial. With flagship investment in the areas of death and dying, and a name borrowed from the ancient Greek’s mythology of the river you pass over to go to Hades, funding and supporting ideas that aren’t yet mainstream or that are traditionally “un-fun” to talk about is part and parcel.
Jim Swift, trustee of the foundation, has lived in earthquake country for much of his life – first in California, later in Washington. While living in Bellingham, he brought up the predicted Cascadia Subduction Zone quake with hundreds of people and asked them if they knew about it, and if so, if they were prepared. Most people knew about the possibility of earthquakes, some knew about the Cascadia fault line, and fewer had taken steps to prepare. Many did not know whether their house was bolted down to their foundation, or believed they had enough water and food to cover them for three days, not knowing that it could be three weeks, or even three months that would be prudent to prepare for.
This led to a question – is there a way that we can make sure the city of Bellingham has access to clean water after the Cascadia Subduction Zone quake? That question led the RiverStyx Foundation to this crazy idea of approaching education about preparedness through story. Could we write a fictional account of the days post-quake in Bellingham, Washington, to help raise awareness about the risks and responsibilities of living in earthquake country and the need and how-to of preparedness.
That question led to meetings with Ram Construction to discuss water pipes, and the mayor’s office of the city of Bellingham to discuss the city’s plans for emergency response post-quake. From there, we met with Whatcom Unified Emergency Management, the Volunteer Mobilization Center, a Western Washington University professor for a deep-dive in the human response post-disaster, a local FEMA expert, a local geology expert and many other wonderful resources.
Armed with mountains of facts, the foundation began a search for a writer. We met with John Stark to pitch the idea to him, and off we went. Our goal was to keep the facts or best-science that we knew of accurate in the story, and to mix those facts with a first person diary-entry narrative of life in Bellingham after the big one hits. Stark met with our local experts a number of times to ask questions about the science, the predicted responses, and the timelines for recovery. There are many choose-your-own-adventure paths this story could take, and there is a range of variability and predictability in the scientific events, but within those bounds, the story is not at all far-fetched.
The foundation sincerely hopes that everyone who reads the earthquake diaries will take steps to be prepared. Bellingham is a caring place, and the more individuals are prepared for their own households, the better we will be able to care for each other. The earthquake may come in our lifetimes, and building a culture of preparedness now will make our community safer come any disaster.
Heather Flaherty is director of the Riverstyx Foundation. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Riverstyx Foundation created the bellinghamearthquake.info website to provide preparedness information.