NOT ACADEMIC THEORY BUT A FACT — Gene Kiver, retired professor of geology, spoke to 80 people in Anacortes Saturday at the “Anacortes Disaster Preparedness Expo: The Really Big One and You.” Whether a year or 1,000 years from now, an earthquake or volcano is coming. — Photo by Ken Stern
However the Big One comes: earthquake, tsunami or volcanic eruption, we won’t be ready and we can’t outrun it. It may be in five days or five decades away, but geography and history proclaim its certainty. That was retired geology professor Gene Kiver’s matter of fact assessment, made Saturday at the “Anacortes Disaster Preparedness Expo: The Really Big One and You.” Kiver’s 50 minute presentation included slides illustrating fault lines in the eastern Pacific Ocean and magma flowing in the Earth’s mantle beneath the surface of Washington’s five active volcanoes. He showed volcano hazard maps for Mt. Baker and Glacer Peak, illustrating that the Skagit River valley is the probable route of lava from either volcano. Geologists have determined that in the last 10,000 years, earthquakes in the Cascades have occurred every 246 years, on average. The last one was around 1700. “Do the math,” Kiver said. We are 320 years past 1700. Anacortes Mayor Laurie Gere told the 80 people attending at Island View Elementary School that the fear of the Big One keeps her awake at night. Of the 16,950 people living in Anacortes, perhaps 100: the 10 department heads, first responders and CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) volunteers, are prepared for a major disaster. The City has hired an emergency management consultant, reporting to the fire chief, this year. Vickie Fontaine, Skagit County’s emergency management coordinator in the department of emergency management, discussed the progress the County is making in obtaining state funds to support local governments and CERT volunteers. In an even tone, she told the group the County “knows we do not have the people to respond” to a major disaster and that the CERT volunteers are needed to fill that role. Ruth Backlund shared her “neighborhood preparedness story.” She lives at Biz Point, in the southwest corner of Fidalgo Island, an area with one road through hilly terrain. A 2015 landslide destroying a stairway to the beach drew the neighbors together, she said. Backlund explained that progress started with one person committed to mapping the neighborhood, identifying propane tank locations as well as people by their addresses. She summed up the increasing cohesiveness and coalescing as a CERT group with increasingly complex drills. The speakers made it clear that no government at any level, federal, state, county or local, has dedicated the resources to provide immediate assistance. Priority will go to large population centers – Seattle and Spokane. Everyone else will be on their own for perhaps 30 days, maybe three months or more, without the infrastructure underpinning civilization: water, electricity natural gas or roads or transportation. Commerce – food supplied to supermarkets – will cease to exist.
The four hour expo was an introduction to “how individuals can prepare to work together in times of disaster,” proclaimed the program’s subtitle. The five 20 minute workshops that attendees rotated through offered glimpses of the planning and preparation needed: communication plans; sanitation; 10 minutes to evacuate and 72 hour kits; non-structural damage mitigation; and “got water?” Outside the school the American Red Cross had their emergency response vehicle and CERT showed their supply trailer and discussed disaster radio communications. The coaching given, designed to get people through three days, is a small start against the force of nature that will turn everyone’s world completely upside down. One small example: the advice to place a pair of shoes under the bed with the 72 hour emergency kit. Immediately after the big one, broken glass from windows, pictures and mirrors will litter the floor. Without shoes at the ready, lacerated feet will be common. The three concerns with water are quantity – supply; quality – drinkability; and sanitation – contamination from human waste. La Conner and Shelter Bay have CERT groups organized in conjunction with the local fire departments.