A big earthquake occurs. The shaker could involve a 7.0 magnitude quake from the shallow South Whidbey Island fault, or it could be from a 9.0 magnitude Cascadia Subduction Zone quake just off the Pacific Northwest coast. It could happen tomorrow, next week, next year, or later this century. It is not a question of if, but when.

In any large magnitude earthquake, there will be a great deal of infrastructure failure. Authorities have studied what those failures may be and they can include power, communications including cell phone service and Internet, gas and water line breaks, transportation failures like bridges, overpasses, and more.

Any or all of these failures may result in ‘islands’ across Snohomish County. By islands, we mean large areas that are cut off from other areas. Even if they are a land mass that is part of the mainland, they can become isolated due to bridge failures and road cave-ins that make them impassable to access. These islands would be cut off from other parts of the county. One good example would be if the Hewitt Ave Trestle and other bridges across the Snohomish River were to fail in the big earthquake.

Snohomish County Emergency Management is working with a number of other agencies and organizations to help determine where these islands would likely be located. Once determined, then pre-deploy key resources to pre-determined locations to help assist people stranded on these ‘islands’.

Those resources can include food, water, blankets, heat and lighting sources, medicines, first aid kits and medical supplies, and far more. The resources would be housed in containers like those used in deep ocean shipping. All of this planning is underway so residents and businesses across the county will be in a better position in case the big quake strikes and these resources are needed until help arrives from beyond the region.

If you live in a neighborhood, you can also prepare in advance by making an earthquake kit for your family and talk to your neighbors. Have a plat map of your immediate neighborhood and ask everyone to list their names and contact numbers on it, as well as circling where on their residence gas shutoff is (then give them all a copy). The energy company will usally supply the emergency shutoff wrenches for free. Just attach one to your gas meter for handy access.

What to include?

  • Three days’ water supply for each member of your family (at least 1 gallon per person, per day)
  • Three days’ supply of nonperishable food, plus a can opener
  • First aid kits for your home and autos
  • Three days’ supply of food and water for your pets
  • Flashlights in every room with extra batteries
  • Power packs for phones
  • Prescription medications
  • Whistle
  • Swiss Army knife
  • Copies of your personal documents
  • Extra pair of glasses
  • Cash, small bills are best

Emergency management is also working with the marine community regarding use of waterways in parts of the county in the wake of a quake. The Port of Everett, the larger rivers like the Snohomish and Stillaquamish Rivers and other key access points via water will likely be the first available means to transport resources once debris is cleared. Bridges and other failed transportation features will take far more time to restore.

A big part of readiness before the big earthquake or any other significant hazard also involves homeowners and businesses. Snohomish County Emergency Management has a Hazard Viewer on their website. Visit the Hazard Viewer webpage to learn more about hazards where you live and work, and what you can do to be better prepared.

More information about planning for Snohomish County ‘islands’ is forthcoming. Yet in the meantime, know that there are plans in the works to support you wherever you may be in the county when the ‘big one’ strikes.