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Less than half in the NW, at best, prepared for earthquake

earthquake drill.jpg
The Associated Press

If you live in the Northwest, it's hard to escape the knowledge that the possibility of a major earthquake is real. 

Yet, far more than half of residents here are not prepared for such a disaster. Despite frequent campaigns encouraging homeowners to have at least a 3-day supply of emergency water, food and first aid on hand, authorities assume only 30-40 percent of us actually do.

This week, disaster-preparedness departments in six counties are role-playing an earthquake  scenario that would leave hundreds dead and thousands injured, with collapsed buildings and blocked roads throughout the Puget Sound region.

They say in many cases, it could take weeks for them to reach devastated communities. 

"Based on the large-scale earthquake exercise that we're doing, we're going to need people to prepare for up to seven days without emergency response being available," says Sheri Badger with the Pierce County Department of Emergency Management. "That they've got their seven-day kits, that they've got their emergency contacts, that they have their family plans put together and that all of their family knows what to do during an emergency."

But she says their scenario only counts on about a third of households actually having those plans in place - about 30-40 percent, Badger says.

Hope for more, prepared for less

That's on par with assumptions made by King County authorities, says Lynne Miller with King County's Office of Emergency Management. She bases that on surveys conducted after a major media blitz last year,  called "Take Winter By Storm."

After a series of public service announcements run on numerous channels, she says they ran a survey and found that about a third of respondents reported being more ready for a major disaster.

"We have a sense by changed behavior that 30 percent or more have taken concrete steps to be better prepared as a result of the public outreach campaigns that we've done in the recent year," Miller says.

So, like Pierce County, they assume about that many people will actually be ready, when disaster strikes. But they always hope for more.

"We'd like to have everybody prepared, but we know that that's not always possible," Miller says. "But we want to encourage people to encourage each other – because it's the little steps: It's having a plan, building a kit and getting involved in your community that makes the difference."

Authorities would like all residents to have at least a week’s worth of emergency supplies on hand, including food, bottled water and first-aid items. Three-days-worth is a bare minimum.

In addition, it’s important to have a communications plan, such as a contact person in another state, in case local phone lines go down. Getting to know your neighbors is also a good idea, in case you need to rely on one another in a worst-case scenario.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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