Community preparedness: Key Peninsula is prime earthquake zone


Rodika Tollefson, KP News

The Tacoma Fault made lots of headlines last month in the local daily papers and on television. Scientists have recently discovered, the reports said, that the fault is much longer than previously thought and could cause a major shallow earthquake.

The fault, stretching through Gig Harbor and on to Allyn in Mason County, travels right through Key Peninsula neighborhoods, across the North end somewhere from the Minter Bay area to the Rocky Bay. The fault is 31 miles long or more, and some parts of the  location are only speculation: Geologists are not sure if it extends to Federal Way, through Commencement Bay, or in between. Detailed studies are planned in the upcoming months.

The U.S. Geological Survey based at the University of Washington has recently examined a steep slope near Allyn and discovered remnants of earthquake activity from 1,100 years ago, suggesting that the edge of the fault rose up to 4 kilometers (about 2.5 miles). Although they don’t know when another earthquake would occur again, the geologists think the fault would cause a shake closer to the Earth’s surface than the 2001 Nisqually quake. One researcher remarked at a November conference that it could create “the scariest of all earthquakes” in the Puget Sound region. If a quake were to happen along the entire portion of the fault, it could be equivalent to the one in Northridge, Calif., in1994 — which left 50 people dead, nearly 6,000 injured, and 20,000 homeless.

What makes it worse, the Tacoma Fault connects with another major faultline, the Seattle Fault. One theory says the two form a giant “wedge” that is creating new ridges at the Earth’s surface.

“There is no doubt in my mind that it will happen, and it will be a doozer, you can just go along the beach and see how the coast has changed,” said Fire District 16 Commissioner Fred Ramsdell, who is active in Peninsula Emergency Preparedness Committee (PEP-C). “I think most people now are more prepared than they used to be, but now we have to get the community prepared.”

The fire department has known for years about a fault line crossing the Peninsula, just didn’t always have a name for it or all the current scientific data. Capt. Chuck West says they have even seen several areas where the earth dropped several feet after a small earthquake, an observation he calls “a real eye opener.”

To be more efficient in any disaster, not just a natural one, the department is slowly stockpiling extra supplies like blankets, medical items, water and fluids, and looking at adding commercial-type cookware and some foods. These supplies would become crucial for the emergency personnel should a major disaster strike.

The problem is many people think the government, or the local emergency services, will be there to take care of immediate needs. They may not. In a major disaster, it can take days, weeks and sometimes months for the U.S. government to bring in any aid—and if any of the local bridges are gone, we may be fresh out of luck.

Even the local paramedics or firefighters will not be immediately available, as they would first focus on securing their own families as well as district facilities, then on the more pressing needs such as fires and injuries. West says it would take the department about 72 hours after a major disaster to manage the resources and manpower. The district conducts regular disaster drills as well as works with PEP-C to train personnel on the individual level, so “their families will be ready and they can leave as quickly as possible” to report to the command center.

Seventy-two hours is a long wait, and the only way to prepare to be self-sufficient, besides having a family emergency plan and supplies, is to work together with the community in the neighborhoods. People who live alone, have medical needs, or children left by themselves are especially vulnerable.

“You need to know your neighbors, and after you make sure all your stuff is OK, start checking on them,” Ramsdell said.

Pierce County makes neighborhood preparedness easy. Through a free program called PC-NET, county trainers will conduct workshops for the mini-communities, create disaster teams and plans, assign tasks, even practice a drill. Participants also walk their neighborhood to assess potential hazards, learn about resources and skills that may become available, from generators and boats to first aid, receive some disaster supplies and are eligible for CPR training through Red Cross.

PC-NET’s Barbara Nelson said once the neighbors organize, PC-NET coordinators will set up a series of two-hour meetings every three or four months, spread over one to one-and-a-half years. One unique element of the program is a crime prevention unit that identifies safety problems and priorities.

“People can get ready for a disaster and it may not happen, but crime will continue, and by developing safety awareness, we strengthen the neighborhoods,” Nelson said. Since not all the neighbors participate in the voluntary training, the program is structured so that in a disaster, any new volunteers can be incorporated right in.

“We know it takes three days for the responders to get to us, and we know that people want to help each other,” said  Nelson. “We are not going to be able to call 911 so someone can come and put a fire out or help with an injury; we will be the first responders in a large disaster. We’re going to have to make a difference in our own neighborhoods and try to figure out what to do.”

Fire district information

FD 16 is in the process of updating its 15-year-old resource manual and would like to find out about all the local buildings that have emergency capabilities such as generators, sleeping room, food etc. They would like to hear even from churches or small groups that are prepared to take care of members only, so that they can disseminate that information when it becomes necessary.

Other information wanted: anyone with special skills and training, such as CPR/first aid, disaster response, doctors, nurses, other agency firefighters and police officers who may become available locally, geologists, engineers knowledgeable about road slides and other issues, FEMA-trained personnel who may be initially available, people who have special equipment and so on.

Call FD 16 headquarters at 884-2222.

Local shelters

Many local facilities are ready for a Red Cross disaster center, and are equipped with generators and in some cases emergency food: Key Peninsula Community House in Lakebay and Key Peninsula Health Center in Key Center, both off HWY 302. Local schools are potential community response centers; however, first priority is students and staff.

PC-NET program

For information on creating a neighborhood emergency response team, contact Gretchen O’Connor at 798-2751. This free program, sponsored by grants, works within the community to teach residents how to help each other. Presentations about the program are available to groups, associations and organizations.

Disaster kits

Looking for an “original” present for Christmas or another occasion? Here is a suggestion from KP News Publishing Committee Chairman Bill Trandum: Give your loved ones an “earthquake backpack.” The pack should have a flashlight with extra batteries, some personal items like toiletries, a water bottle, military-type food, pet food if needed, and other basics. If you have children, add some simple toys or activities for them as well, and diapers or other needed items. Toss the backpack in the trunk, and once every couple of years get it refreshed.

Another excellent practical gift is a disaster radio, or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radios, available at Bartell’s, Fred Meyer, Radio Shack and other suppliers. See the Pierce County Web site for details: