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Washington Lags Other West Coast States On Earthquake Readiness

Oregon Office of Emergency Management

Washington state is playing catch-up compared to other West Coast states on earthquake preparedness. A "subcabinet" of state agency directors convened by Gov. Jay Inslee will hold its first public meeting Tuesday afternoon to review possible actions to improve.

A multi-state earthquake and tsunami response exercise last June called Cascadia Rising spotlighted shortcomings.

"It was eye opening for some people how unprepared we are and how much more we need to do,” said Maximilian Dixon, the earthquake program manager for the Washington Emergency Management Division, in a blog post. Dixon said the problems identified in Cascadia Rising provided momentum to create the governor's subcabinet and focus on "building consensus" on what actions should be taken.

Jim Buck is a former legislator from Clallam County, Washington, who now agitates for disaster preparedness. He recommends school seismic safety be prioritized, especially since schools double as disaster shelters.

"The thing that keeps me up at night is the number of people we're going to lose through exposure because we either don't have the shelters, or we don't have enough food, or we don't have fuel or anything to keep 'em warm and keep them dry,” Buck said.

Oregon, California and British Columbia have each allocated tens of millions of dollars per year to school building retrofits. Washington state has only begun to assess which schools are at highest earthquake risk.

But finding dollars for school seismic upgrades in the Evergreen State looks to be tough in a year when court-ordered spending on daily school operations trumps all.

The director of the Washington state Emergency Management Division conceded at a state Senate Ways and Means Committee meeting last Thursday that dollars for mitigation will be hard to get in the current legislative budget cycle.

One change already made in the wake of the federal-state-local exercise was to increase the amount of time Northwest residents and businesses should plan to be on their own after the "Big One." Formerly, the standard advice for most people in Cascadia was to prepare a survival kit of food, water, medicines and other basic supplies to last three days. Now the operative recommendation is to build a kit sufficient for two weeks.

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.