All posts by Arne Christensen

“Full Rip 9.0” Uncovers the Northwest’s Earthquake Dangers


June 18, at 7 p.m., there will be a free Q&A with Full Rip 9.0 author Sandi Doughton and earthquake experts at Seattle Public Central Library.

The title of Full Rip 9.0 and the cover, an off-kilter picture of a slice of the Seattle skyline as seen through a shattered window, make you think this book will be a lurid warning of disaster. Sandi Doughton’s narrative of the uncovering of the subduction zone off the Northwest coast and the local, near-surface faults (especially Seattle’s) that dot Washington and Oregon is, however, mostly a fairly restrained, composed profile of the scientists and engineers who have led advances in the region’s earthquake science over the past few decades.

Doughton’s story focuses on the geological record and its implications for the Northwest. Does the region face an offshore mega-quake and tsunami on the scale of Japan’s 3/11/11 event that will kill thousands and devastate the economy, or a series of magnitude 8 offshore quake and tsunami events that will cumulatively be nearly as devastating?

When might the Seattle Fault or another of the Northwest’s near-surface faults (still being discovered and mapped) deliver a Haiti-like quake that causes terrifying but limited, localized devastation?

Doughton portrays the seismologists, engineers, and geologists working on the answers as increasingly worried about the danger, and increasingly willing to broadcast their warnings to the public, despite their uncertainty about the exact nature of the region’s seismic hazards.

Full Rip 9.0 is structured as 14 chapters whose sections, divided by images of seismograph squiggles, describe the developments and how and where they happened. The scenes range from Brian Atwater’s exploration of the ghost forest of the Copalis on the central Washington coast, which started Northwest subduction zone studies in 1986, to the site of the subduction zone on the muddy surface of the Pacific’s floor, to the offices and conference rooms where professionals debate the level of seismic risk facing Puget Sound and the broader region, and what programs are needed to address the risk.

There are no great dramas after the introduction’s depiction of the 1700 subduction zone quake and tsunami: Doughton, writing for the general, concerned audience, avoids jargon and technical language, but her book is no thriller.

Perhaps the most disturbing news in Doughton’s book is the word that the Northwest’s engineers are increasingly developing building plans that depend heavily on computer models, lack steel frames, and barely meet code requirements, using thinner and thinner concrete shear walls to provide much of a building’s resilience to shaking. The need to cut costs in order to win building contracts drives much of this trend.

It matters because these practices, used in many recent apartment, condo, and office towers, leave buildings with a narrowing margin of protection to hold up against the sustained shaking that will come in the next serious quake. Doughton quotes Peter Yanev, a consulting earthquake engineer who wrote a 2010 New York Times op-ed warning about this danger in the major Northwest cities, saying: “These concrete buildings scare the living daylights out of me and a lot of other engineers.”

A lot of people might look up at the Space Needle and envision it splitting in a Big One, but Doughton explains that its structural engineer, John K. Minasian, was “a fanatic for detail” who oversaw a construction process with multiple redundancies and shaped by extreme conservatism and overengineering: the Needle’s grounded on a huge foundation of reinforced  concrete anchored by massive steel bolts and beams. Gary Noble Curtis, an engineer on the project, tells Doughton: “There was no complaining that we put too much steel in it. Today, you’d get in big trouble for wasting somebody’s money.” The Needle may have been built without the aid of plate tectonics theory and computing power, but unlike most of downtown Seattle’s taller buildings, it’s already been tested by the substantial quakes of 1965 and 2001.

Politicians, senior bureaucrats, and corporate executives hardly show up in Full Rip 9.0, but they approve the budgets that respond to the scientists’ warnings about seismic hazards. How many of them are willing to follow Minasian’s lead and authorize overengineering to ensure long-term security, with the associated risk of unnecessary spending, rather than give preference to short-term budget concerns?

Cascadias-Fault-coverGiven the surprising amount of damage caused by the recent quakes in Haiti, Japan, and New Zealand, and the still immature state of seismology and earthquake engineering, it seems the best strategy is to always assume earthquakes can be bigger than we think, and engineer our structures accordingly. Think of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in spring 2010: it was apparently the result of engineers under time and budget pressures giving the go-ahead for cost-cutting measures that they knew to be somewhat risky but believed were unlikely to cause problems. It doesn’t make much sense to think that structural engineers will never bow to such pressures.

Cascadia’s Fault, another book that describes the uncovering of the subduction zone as a scientific detective story, was published a few months after Japan’s 3/11/11 earthquake. Written by Jerry Thompson, a tv documentarian who lives on Vancouver Island, it takes a dramatic, scenic approach to the task, complete with a closing fictional but plausible narrative of the subduction zone disaster of which the book warns.

Doughton was trained as a biologist, then decided to become a science journalist: that background probably explains why she spends more time describing scientists’ efforts to decide the best way to measure earthquake magnitude than conjuring scenes from the next Big One. That said, Doughton and Thompson trod on each other’s turf quite a bit and interview many of the same players. The substance (if not the style) of their books is very similar. Unless you’re strongly interested in earthquakes, reading just one of the two books will satisfy your need to know about seismicity in the Northwest. My guess is that if you work in a technical field you’ll prefer Doughton’s fairly low-key prose to Thompson’s more novelistic stylings.

Also, here’s a follow-up note on how the Space Needle was built. Knute Berger, who’s written a recent book about the Needle, tells me: “Minasian was adamant on a stronger Needle. He studied with Richter at Cal Tech and in addition to designing many towers in California, he was also an expert forensic tower specialist–the guy to call when one failed (broadcast towers, in addition to his NASA and Air Force gantries). Gary told me that the Needle would withstand a 9 quake–though the folks at the top would likely be knocked around. My book recounts what happened up there during the ’65 quake, and I was able to interview at least one person who was on top that day, as well as Howard S. Wright’s George Schuchart who watched the Needle sway from the ground. The concrete foundation, at Minasian’s insistence, was a single, continuous poor, which strengthened it.”

A Traveler’s Take on King Street Train Station’s New Look


This is what King Street Station used to look like. (Photo: City of Seattle)

The King Street Station waiting room (Photo: MvB)

Seating is a mixture of wooden benches and these newer chairs. (Photo: MvB)

Electric outlets are only along the outer wall and will be fought over. There are no plans to extend power to the center of the room. (Photo: MvB)

Waiting room ceiling rosettes (Photo: MvB)

Mosaic trim (Photo: MvB)

Your current food and drink options (Photo: MvB)

The as yet secret entrances to the ticket office (Photo: MvB)

Baggage claim area (Photo: MvB)

Where the balcony views come from. (Photo: MvB)

The King Street Station waiting room. (Photo: MvB)

The upper level may be home to a station brasserie or other food service. (Photo: MvB)

The King Street Station waiting room (Photo: MvB)

The grand staircase lacks a little grandeur at the moment but it'll open in early May. (Photo: MvB)

Exterior signs are up, it's just the interior that is mainly a guessing game. (Photo: MvB)

Crap_King_Street thumbnail
IMGP3414 thumbnail
IMGP3416 thumbnail
IMGP3417 thumbnail
IMGP3420 thumbnail
IMGP3421 thumbnail
IMGP3422 thumbnail
IMGP3423 thumbnail
IMGP3426 thumbnail
IMGP3427 thumbnail
IMGP3429 thumbnail
IMGP3430 thumbnail
IMGP3432 thumbnail
IMGP3438 thumbnail
IMGP3439 thumbnail

I happened to take an Amtrak train from Seattle last Thursday, the day after King Street Station’s new waiting hall opened (here’s a Flickr gallery of the actual event), so I wanted to talk more specifically about the impact the renovation has on the traveler.

The ceiling is about 30 feet high (I have not learned the specific height), not tall enough for the expansiveness of Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal, or even the reading room at UW’s Suzzallo Library, but it creates enough space for you to relax. The old room (you could not call it a hall) always felt somehow dingy, with its low ceilings and darkness, whereas the new hall will feel clean, barring negligence. (To better prepare for an earthquake, seismic steel has been installed all around the building). King Street Station no longer feels like a place where bad things could happen.

There’s somewhat of a generic “classic big-city train station” feeling to King Street, with its fabricated Corinthian columns, chandeliers, ceiling rosettes, and tiling, none of which come across as original, because they aren’t. If you’ve spent time in other stations of the type, they won’t impress you very much—they’ll simply be nice and attractive—but I think that if you’re used to more contemporary constructions, King Street will make an impact. (Fun fact: when it opened in 1906, King Street boasted a separate ladies waiting room.)

Amtrak has not yet caught up with adding wayfinding signs inside the main waiting area — a layout map with a “You Are Here” would help, too. Where is ticketing? Where are the bathrooms? Where do I get and drop off my luggage? These questions weren’t answered by signs. The men’s and women’s bathrooms are not quite kitty-corner, on the north and west sides of the hall, respectively; the ticketing room is down a corridor on the north side, to the west of the men’s bathroom; and I don’t know where the luggage room is.

In terms of technology, outside of additional electrical outlets along the outside walls, I suspect the waiting hall really does not look much different from its original form. Amtrak does plan to install an electronic passenger information board — but at present, there is no schedule information available, and no in-station WiFi.

When the Central Seattle Public Library opened in 2004, it was supposed to be a destination, a show-off place where people would come to look out at the city, to study, and to simply hang out. I don’t think that has happened (maybe I’m just not impressed by the library), but I could imagine King Street’s waiting hall coming to have that kind of ambiance, even if it does not become a tourist destination. The city says it’s fielded many offers from people interested in opening a food and drink establishment on the upper floor that faces the plaza north of the station. The large stairway that leads down to the waiting hall from there should open around May 6.

At the old King Street Station, a few times I saw sparrows swoop beneath the dropped ceiling and make a circuit around the waiting room. This could still happen in the new station: The difference is that no longer feels likely. (Apparently both rats and pigeons were living in the clock tower; I never saw them, but it would not have been much of a surprise to see them in the old waiting room either. The clock is currently stopped while repairs are being made and should restart perhaps as early as this Friday.)

Similarly, a few times I have ridden a bike to King Street Station and cleaned up from the ride in the bathroom there. Rinsing off and wiping down felt like relatively decorous activities in that bathroom. The new station is too dignified to use the bathroom as a rest stop. It makes the idea of dressing up to board a train seem natural. As the train I took back to Seattle neared King Street, two guys seated two rows ahead of me raved about the new waiting hall, one of them saying, “It’s something for Seattle to be proud of.” The exact reverse was said, many times, about the previous incarnation.

Why a Clif Bar Might Introduce You to the Indian Meal Moth

Moth-infested Clif Bar–an adult meshed into the lower left of the top bar (Photo: Arne Christensen)

In early October, after a short trip, I came back to my apartment and saw a few small, copper and tan-colored moths flying slowly around in my kitchen and sitting on the cupboards. I also discovered the silky threads that insect larvae spin in packages of rice and walnuts that I had.

Looking around online, I learned I’d been infested by the Indian meal moth, a nuisance of food storage firms that, although harmless to people, likes to eat cornmeal (hence the name: Indian meal is ground corn), grains, nuts, and other dry foods.

There were no moth larvae crawling around, so there was no great cause for alarm: I wouldn’t need to fumigate the apartment, just throw out the infested packages and deal with the adults. For the next 10 days, I’d trap and throw out a few of the moths daily, which was easy: they don’t fly much, move slowly, have terrible peripheral vision, and usually move very little even once you’ve trapped them. After some days of hoping I’d see no more of the adults, one day none of them appeared, the next day was the same, and for about a week I thought the infestation was over.

I learned otherwise when I opened a bag of cereal one morning and a moth flew out. I made a more comprehensive run of the kitchen, swept over the cupboards, threw out some more food, put some packages in the refrigerator. The larvae of the Indian meal moth does not deal with cold well, and freezing food or just storing it at cooler temperatures is one way to end an infestation. I’d have to trap some more adults, though.

The next day I opened up a Clif energy bar, not at all suspectingly: the self-spun threads that these moths make were all over the surface of the bar. Opening a few more bars uncovered more threads and several adults stuck to the surface, dead. I’d eaten my last Clif bar. Going back online and searching for “indian meal moth clif bar,” I found this story from Gracie, a New York City blogger who spied the moth larvae on her half-eaten Luna bar (Clif makes Luna, Clif, Builder’s, and Mojo bars) a couple years ago. After sticking the bars in the freezer as evidence, I wrote to Clif, asking for some  compensation, and to Gracie.

The life cycle of the Indian meal moth ranges from six to eight weeks; the eggs hatch in two to 14 days. Apparently the moth larvae had arrived in the Clif bars I’d bought a few weeks before my trip. Most of them chewed through the bars’ wrappers to infest my apartment, pupating and getting into other food to lay eggs; the ones that didn’t make it died inside the packages. The larvae often pupate in cracks and crevices: there’s about a one-eighth inch gap between my cupboards and the ceiling, and my guess is they usually pupated in that gap, then emerged overnight and crawled down to the cupboards, where I would find them the next morning.

That’s the setup. A few days after writing to Clif, while still trapping a few adult moths a day, I got this explanation from them:

An adult moth will seek out a food source when it is ready to lay its eggs and can enter sealed packaging though microscopic pores or by biting through the wrapper.

While we do not know if the moth entered the packaging at the store level, in transit, or in storage, we are confident that the Indian Meal Moths you encountered did not originate in our warehouse or bakery. Our bakeries are kept scrupulously clean by using state-of-the-art pest control. Furthermore, an Indian Meal Moth simply could not survive the mixing and baking process. While this doesn’t make finding them in your bar any less unsettling, I wanted to assure you that they are not harmful, nor is it a common experience.

I hope that you will give our bars another chance. I would like to send fresh bars to you directly from our warehouse.

I am, sort of, giving their bars another chance: the Builder’s bars I asked for are said to be on their way to me now. They’re different enough from the Clif bars that I might be able to eat them, and if not I can always give the bars away. But, at about the same time I heard back from Clif, I also heard back from Gracie, the NYC blogger. She wrote: “It would be one thing if I experienced the only problem, but I’ve had dozens upon dozens of readers report the same issue as well.”

I’d also seen that there was a minor kerfuffle on the Internet about this, sparked by a guy on Reddit posting a picture of larvae on his Clif bar in, yes, early October, the same time my Indian meal moth experience began.

A few issues raised by all this: the Indian meal moths weren’t in the energy bars made by another company that I had in the cupboard adjacent to my Clif bars. So the explanation that the larvae dug their way into the Clif bars in transit, while supposedly true, doesn’t explain everything. If Clif doesn’t have a contaminated factory, and instead the bars were infiltrated at some point between production and retail sale, shouldn’t Clif address that problem by making a tougher wrapper? Or by investigating their supply chain and identifying the source?

In any event, I haven’t seen reports of the Indian meal moths associated with other energy/snack bars. It’s rash to say that Clif is certainly to blame here, but I’d never seen the moths before last month, so I’m not inclined to think Clif is an entirely innocent victim in these contaminations. I should add that I’d eaten dozens of Clif bars over the years with no problems, although lately I’d preferred sweeter, saltier,  better tasting snack/energy bars: Clif bars had come to feel like I was doggedly chewing through a mass of carbohydrates. And for all their talk about being organic and natural, Clif bars have less texture and less of a natural look to them than many other energy/snack bars. (The Mojo bar is their sweet/salty and natural-looking variety, but I haven’t tried it.)

Perhaps this is a temporary problem for Clif, one they’ve cleaned up in recent weeks. Perhaps they are indeed a victim, and I should give the bars another try rather than illogically conclude that all Clif bars are suspect. But why do that when there are other options available? And given the dramatic visuals and potential for outrage associated with this story, why hasn’t there been more publicity about the issue?

It’s silly to pretend that moths getting into Clif bars is a public health threat or a crisis, no matter what the exact cause is: the moths are harmless, it isn’t very hard to get rid of them. But at minimum, you do expect packaged food to be sufficiently sealed to prevent contamination, and it is clear that Clif’s packaging isn’t achieving that goal.

Emergency Supplies Renters Need to Have On Hand


The Red Cross has an online store with emergency supplies. (Image: Red Cross)

With a 7.7 earthquake to the north at Haida Gwaii and Hurricane Sandy working over the East Coast, it feels like a good time to have Arne (@nwquakes) talk with emergency management expert Carol Dunn (@caroldn) about a higher-risk group: renters. Part 1 is here

What’s a good strategy for getting together emergency supplies in your apartment, given that you don’t have a lot of spare space?

Storage space can be a problem in rental units, but you shouldn’t make that an excuse not to have backup food and water. Find ways to make it work. Remember, disaster supplies are simply things you own that are useful in disasters. A lot of people’s mental picture of disasters supplies involve shelves of specifically bought supplies gadgets kept in a shed or garage—that actually isn’t the best way.

You should try to make disaster supplies part of your everyday life. Your goal is to find a way to have backup ways to get water, food, medicine, heating, information, and light. The best way to do it is to see what you already have. Designate some space to let you pull your supplies together. This can be a shelf in a cupboard, or under, behind, or inside a piece of furniture.

Tips for Supplies

A demonstrator from Puget Sound Energy shows a man how to safely turn off a utility meter. (Photo: Seattle Red Cross)

Water: Store water either by buying multi-gallon water jugs or by filling cleaned soda bottles with water. Learn different techniques for purifying water. If you don’t have a water heater (which is a good source of emergency water), find out how your building provides heated water. Often there are large central water tanks that hold hundreds of gallons of water.

Talk to the management company or building owners about their plan for a water emergency. Who has access to the tanks? How can residents contact the manager/building owner if none of their representatives are on site during the emergency? Your goal should be to have a gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, but it’s best if you can store even more. It is a lot of water, so be clever in how you store it. Don’t let the large amount give yourself permission to put off doing it. Store what you can to start with.

If you are filling your own bottles, be sure to refill them every six months: tap water can in fact “go bad”; that is, it can get contaminated by bacteria over time. If you have any reason to worry about the quality of your water, purify it before drinking it.

Food: Energy/snack bars and nutritional drinks are easy to store emergency food.

Medicine: Insurance/Medicaid rules often make it difficult to have back up prescriptions. Get in the habit of requesting refills the date you are allowed to request them and not when you are running out. Also keep a list of prescriptions, doses, and the number of your doctor and your pharmacy in your wallet. It is possible to get emergency replacements for prescriptions that were lost due to a disaster. Having the ability to provide information about your medical needs will speed up the process. You can also request replacement prescriptions by going to a public health clinic or an emergency shelter and talking to their staff.

You should get together some first aid supplies in case of injury. Bandages, gauze, aspirin, disinfectant, tissues, plastic gloves, soap: They’re all compact, inexpensive items you’ll need if you get injured and help can’t reach you and you can’t reach help.

Heating: Blankets, sweaters and hand warmers can provide safe heating. Avoid heaters that generate fumes of any sort. In long-term power outages normal ventilation in buildings no longer runs, so air is not moving. Over time, this can make non-electric heating devices, like propane heaters or camp stoves, dangerous—even if their labels say they can be used indoors.

Information: Keep a battery or crank radio handy so you can get information about the location of shelters or emergency food and prescription replacement. If you have a car, consider buying an inverter so it can charge phones and laptops. Emergency information in our area is usually available on local radio stations (often AM 1000, or FM 97.7 or 97.3), online at,, and most city government websites, or by calling 211. Keep a paper list of phone numbers for the people and services that are important to you.

Lighting: Use flashlights, glow-sticks, or battery- or crank-powered lanterns. If using batteries, have spare batteries on hand.

Natural Disaster Tips That Renters Need to Know

With a 7.7 earthquake to the north at Haida Gwaii and Hurricane Sandy working over the East Coast, it feels like a good time to have Arne (@nwquakes) talk with emergency management expert Carol Dunn (@caroldn) about a higher-risk group: renters.

What are some things renters can do to help protect themselves?

The impact from disasters can be reduced when communities work together in advance to identify and reduce risks, to gather supplies, and to train to work as a team to respond to disasters–but this can be harder to achieve in areas with a high number of people who are renting. In King County, there are a number of cities where more than half the people rent and not own. Because renting can lead to more frequent moves within the community, individuals may not feel vested in the neighborhood or community. And, local preparedness training efforts can be hampered by residential turnaround.

But as a renter, you can provide guidance to other residents—help teach them how to safely conduct light search and rescue/first aid, and do welfare checks after a disaster. Work with your management company or property owner to see if they will be willing to provide emergency information to new tenants: perhaps a simple handout with contacts listed, info on tools and other equipment stored inside the building and how to access them, emergency exits, nearby emergency shelters and medical aid, etc.

Reach out and talk to your neighbors. Share your telephone numbers, and a number of a contact who lives out of the area. If you are away from your home and a disaster strikes, you will be relieved that you have someone you can talk to who might be able to tell you the status of your location. This is particularly true if you are the caregiver for someone (person or animal) who can’t communicate on their own. Out-of-area contacts are useful after disasters if no one can return to their original location, and in the period immediately after a disaster, when local phone lines are more likely to be jammed than long distance lines.

Rental insurance is really important. The owner of the property will have insurance that covers their building, but not the things you have inside the building. Also, a lot of people don’t realize that property owners aren’t required to rehouse and repair units damaged by a natural disaster. I’ve seen situations where property owners simply declare the buildings too damaged to be used, so, since disasters are considered Acts of God, the residents are not allowed back, and not given any assistance by the property managers to find new housing.

Mind you, this can also be an advantage in a post-disaster period: if your unit becomes inhabitable your lease is no longer valid, providing flexibility that allows you to relocate to an area that isn’t damaged. This can make recovery faster and easier. But, studies have shown that being forced to relocate with no advance warning is emotionally hard no matter what the circumstances, so be sure to take advantage of opportunities to talk with counselors who have specific experience working with people who have undergone disaster related trauma.

Frequently multi-housing units are electric only—heating, stove, refrigeration. This makes a power outage in extreme weather hit harder. Have backup heating, lighting that doesn’t require any sort of flame or burning anything (candles, camp stoves, etc.), backup food that doesn’t require heat. Fire and carbon monoxide poisonings frequently happen in the period after the cause of the disaster have passed. Multi-housing units may depend on electric pumps working for water to reach apartments—and may not have water heaters in individual units. This makes water a more serious problem.

Do you have other advice?

The very nature of multi-family units mean that you are living with others nearby, so the mistakes of others can impact your life. Be sure to have a carbon monoxide detector with a battery backup. If a nearby family uses charcoal or a generator inside, creating odorless, invisible, dangerous gas, you will be warned that the gas is in the air. Don’t assume that your smoke detectors work: Test them yourself.

Often there are rules on whether you can bolt furniture to your apartment walls. If the rules say you can’t, work with other residents to try to influence the owners of the property to change the rules. In the meantime, consider the location of furniture that might fall down in an earthquake. If you can’t brace your furniture to the wall, you should at least move it away from places where it might tip over and hit someone (i.e., near beds, chairs, and couches). And you don’t want furniture where it can fall and block doorways and hallways and any other exits.

Unrepaired masonry (Photo: Carol Dunn)

Since we live in an area with flooding, landslides and earthquakes, it is important to spend time evaluating whether the place you want to live is at risk from each of these hazards. Your ability to make it through a large disaster will largely depend on how well the building you’re in holds up to the disaster. People living in buildings that are not in flood zones have radically different experiences during a flood than people living in buildings in flood zones.

Likewise, people living in buildings that were built to handle earthquakes have radically better chances of recovering quickly from an earthquake than people living in buildings that can’t withstand shaking. Take the time to evaluate your building and its risk of being damaged in a disaster. A benefit to renting is that if you learn you’re in a risky building, it’s easier to move to a safer building pretty quickly.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that landlords can’t offer units for rent that are in bad earthquake buildings, or located in an area known to flood. Local laws state that only new buildings, or buildings that have undergone major structural renovations, need to meet current earthquake codes. We have literally hundreds, if not thousands, of rental units in the Puget Sound region (See this Capitol Hill map–ed.) that are in buildings made with materials and techniques that cannot handle earthquakes well, or are in areas that flood.

Since there is no law requiring property owners to make such buildings safe for earthquakes and flooding, it is up to us as individuals to make sure we don’t live in them. Learn how to recognize buildings that don’t handle shaking well, or are in flood zones.


The Earthquake Prep Details You Haven’t Thought of Yet

In Part 3 of this series (Parts 1 and 2), The SunBreak’s Northwest Earthquake Correspondent Arne Christensen asks John Schelling (@jdschelling) of the Washington Emergency Management Division about the earthquake preparation details we haven’t thought about. 

Arne has also written a previous series on earthquake preparedness in the tech sector, and the psychology of readiness. He also maintains this Nisqually Quake site, which collects stories on the subject. 

Could you share some information about the contents of your preparedness kit(s), especially anything that most people wouldn’t think to have in their kit or anything especially useful for earthquakes?

I like to think I have a pretty well stocked emergency kit for our family, and we keep part of it near the garage door, which most people use when they enter or leave our house. When visiting for the first time, friends and family take notice of the week’s worth of stored water for 3-4 people and politely joke, “Looks like you’re ready for the big one,” and I look at them quizzically and say “Yep, aren’t you?”

This usually leads to a discussion about what one should have in a disaster preparedness kit along with some encouragement to not let the rest of the week go by without putting at least one thing into a bin as a start. Putting together an emergency kit is easy and can be done on a budget! In fact, I suspect that many people will have most of these items already. However, they may be consolidated into some type of container in case they have to leave quickly.

Essential items should include: a battery-powered or hand-crank NOAA weather radio, at least a 3-day supply of nonperishable food (I like the kind that can be served on paper plates or in paper bowls requiring no water for cleanup!), a first aid kit, at least a week’s worth of medications and any necessary medical supplies, sanitation items and a portable shovel since you might need to dig a hole outside (don’t laugh, this is how folks in New Zealand did it for awhile last year), copies of important documents in a waterproof container, emergency blankets, pet supplies, if applicable ( I have a huge black lab, so they’re applicable to me), and I already mentioned water (at least three days of water–one gallon per person or pet per day), and some spare cash since ATMs and point of sale might not work.

When my daughter was younger, my wife and I learned the hard way that we needed to keep more diapers as part of our kit since you never know when the power will be out, stores will be closed, and debris will block the roadway, limiting your options. And believe me, no one wants to be stuck with a baby that has no diapers! Since no parent wants to run short on diapers or baby formula, this would be a good time to make sure you’ve got enough set aside to last for at least a week. Fortunately, for us, the debris in this case was snow from last winter’s storm, but we learned our lesson. My wife also discovered the benefit of having an LED headlamp rather than a traditional flashlight, so you have both of your hands free.

Parents, get your kids involved and let them pick out some snacks and food for your emergency stash, since they’ll be the ones that have to eat it and you’ll be the one that has to hear them complain that they don’t want to eat what you picked! Now that our daughter is older, we have had to replace some of the baby food she ate with Dora the Explorer Spaghetti O’s and other canned food that she would be willing to eat if we can only cook with our camp stove or barbecue grill.

As for earthquake specific items, I would suggest face and dust masks for use during clean up and an emergency toilet (basically a 5-gallon bucket with a seat) and garbage bags to use as liners. The reality is that water and sewer lines can and will break–especially in areas that are subject to liquefaction. You’ll be much more comfortable with this arrangement than going outside–especially during the windy and rainy winters in the Pacific Northwest.

What do you think the Northwest should learn from other places, I suppose California and Japan in particular, about how to deal with earthquakes?

I think we have to shift the way in which we view both earthquake preparedness and recovery. Earthquake and tsunami safety shouldn’t be a standalone issue, but a component of everything we do in earthquake country. The Japan earthquake and tsunami was an important event for all of us. Japan spends significantly more than the U.S. on earthquake mitigation and their buildings, and infrastructure outside of the tsunami hazard zone fared remarkably well. However, when it came to the tsunami, they were planning for the most probable event, not the worst case possible event. This is why we saw water flowing over the top of their seawalls and penetrating their other defenses.

In Washington and throughout the Pacific Northwest we have not had the vast written history that a nation like Japan does, so our focus has been on looking at the geological record. What we find is that our subduction zone, Cascadia, has produced earthquakes and tsunamis regularly enough to know that it averages a M9+ earthquake every 500-600 years, but this is an average, which means that some earthquakes have occurred only a few hundred years apart and others much longer.

When the next one will happen is anyone’s best guess, so we need to be vigilant and ready. This means looking at the concept of resilience in terms of our systems, infrastructure, and buildings. The reality is that if we do not make seismic safety investments in these aspects of our communities during peacetime, people, property, the environment, and our economy will suffer the effects afterwards. The Washington State Seismic Safety Committee has been examining these issues and is working on a project entitled “The Resilient Washington State Initiative” to get a better snapshot of where we are today and what we can do to buy down tomorrow’s recovery at today’s rates.