OPINION: Are we better prepared for disaster than Italy?

Emergency Management Deputy Director Charles Wallace talks disaster preparation after Italy quakes

Mountain villages in Italy were impacted by a 6.2 magnitude earthquake this week, followed by hundreds of aftershocks, leaving hundreds killed or injured and entire villages trembling in disbelief of the power of nature.

According to an article in The Guardian by Jon Henley, as the earthquake death toll rises, Italy questions why it was so unprepared: “questions were mounting about how it was possible, once again, for so many lives to have been lost in an area long known to be the most seismically hazardous in Europe. Experts estimated that some 70 percent of Italy’s buildings were not built to anti-seismic standards.”

In a recent Seattle Times article by Sandi Doughton and Dan Gilbert, ‘We should be screaming’ with outrage: State does little to protect schoolkids from earthquake, tsunami, the authors discuss issues in Washington State. “The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates almost 75 percent of coastal schools and one in five schools along the I-5 corridor could suffer extensive damage, including collapse. 386,000 WA children in earthquake prone areas attend schools built before seismic standards were required statewide,” and “Over 31,000 Washington students attend schools that are in or near tsunami danger zones.”

You may say I’m comparing “apples to oranges” because our buildings are not nearly as old as the buildings in Italy and have been built according to the building codes that were in effect at the time they were built, (unlike many of the hundreds-of-years-old structures in Italy). But the possibility of collapse of school buildings, other public buildings and critical infrastructure during an earthquake looms just as heavily upon our state as it does in Italy.

A new building code has been released which enhances the engineering required to construct schools and other buildings which is a great step forward, but what are we to do about the older structures and the schools our children currently attend for 6-8 hours every day? Legislation could and should be passed requiring inspection of all schools and critical infrastructure along with a requirement to retrofit them for seismic conditions – but even if there was consensus to legislate, it will take time to enact. There is no funding available to retrofit or repair them all at once. So, what are we to do?

We cannot sit back and bury our heads in the sand with crossed fingers hoping our worst fears never appear. Planning and Mitigation prior to any disaster event substantially reduces the impact upon our communities and upon our families. Government can’t do it alone. We, as citizens, must become better informed about the risks and hazards we face where we live, work, shop and go to school. We must become involved in committees for school construction and community development to ensure the safety of our friends, co-workers and our family members.

Washington State voters hold the power to make significant changes in our communities. It has been done in the Ocosta School District. It can be done in yours.


The link below contains great information about earthquake damage factors, resonance and earthquake scenarios for a magnitude 7 and a magnitude 9 earthquake. Although it discusses the Earthquake I Haiti, the information in the article is very good. Please pay particular attention to page 1 (Damage During Earthquake Results From Several Factors), and Page 3 (Resonance), also be sure to click the blue link (“Resonance Video Lecture Demonstration”), and then page 4 for the magnitude 7 and magnitude 8 earthquake scenario.

The earthquake education web link is from IRIS (Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology and the University of Portland): http://bit.ly/2bPzVhS

The Grays Harbor Emergency Management Expo is Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016 at Grays Harbor County Fair grounds. The expo will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.