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Subcabinet focusing on earthquake preparedness convenes Jan. 17


A car is crushed in downtown Seattle following the Nisqually earthquake in 2001. (FEMA picture)

Subcabinet focusing on earthquake preparedness convenes Jan. 17

A subcabinet of state agency directors has been tasked by Gov. Jay Inslee to help the state improve its earthquake preparedness initiatives and squeeze down the recovery time in the aftermath of a major earthquake.

“While we cannot prevent or predict earthquakes and tsunamis, we can be better prepared to respond and recover quickly when these natural disasters do occur,” writes Inslee in his directive to convene the subcabinet.

The first public meeting is set for 1 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 17 in Olympia. Find the agenda here.

The subcabinet will look over the Resilient Washington report, crafted by seismologists, emergency management experts and others that provides the framework for minimizing loss and improving statewide recovery after an earthquake.

The report provided guidelines and recommendations for improving statewide resilience with an emphasis on critical services, utilities, transportation and housing and economic development.

“Our resilience depends on how well we anticipate and prepare for the effects of a major earthquake,” the report notes in its executive summary. “Because Washington’s systems, infrastructure, and economy are interconnected, improving our resilience requires a coordinated effort among stakeholders from all sectors and locations, even those that may not experience direct physical damage during an earthquake. … Implementation of the recommendations will encourage the pre-earthquake planning, mitigation, and enhanced seismic performance of future construction that Washington’s citizens, businesses, and communities need to lower their seismic risk and reduce the time it takes to recover from a significant earthquake. With these investments, we will buy down tomorrow’s recovery time and enhance public safety for generations to come.”


Whatcom personnel work with the Washington National Guard to fulfill supply orders during Cascadia Rising. (Guard photo)

Among the issues that will be looked at by the subcabinet are those involving utilities vulnerabilities, building standards, business continuity efforts, transportation issues and helping hospitals be more resilient.

Maximilian Dixon, the earthquake program manager for the Washington Emergency Management Division, has been tasked to help the subcabinet and provide expert advice.

“There’s a lot more for us to do,” Dixon said. “I’m really excited about this process. It’s about building consensus, getting buy in and making people aware that this report is out there and these recommendations are important. We want the public to know we’re working on making Washington more resilient. We understand this is just the start and there’s going to be a whole lot more to do, so we are trying to maximize our resources and move forward.”

Washington Emergency Management Director Robert Ezelle says the subcabinet’s roots come out of the recent Cascadia Rising exercise, which looked at the state’s vulnerabilities when it comes to an earthquake and tsunami originating off the coast. The exercise confirmed problems in responding to issues involving power grids, infrastructure, petroleum issues, port damage, and communication among many other issues.


Different state, local and tribal agencies have been working on their own earthquake plans in the wake of the Cascadia Rising exercise and the state Emergency Management Division has increased its preparedness goal for the public from three days to two weeks because the exercise showed the public may be on their own for longer than initially thought.

“Cascadia Rising gave us momentum for moving forward and it was eye opening for some people how unprepared we are and how much more we need to do,” Dixon said. “Now, with the subcabinet, we want to build on that momentum and continue this progress we’re making.”

“We need to hammer out who needs to be involved and really figure out what’s already been done, what needs to be done, what resources are available, what are the gaps and what actions need to be taken to implement the recommendations,” Dixon added.

Inslee’s proposed budget contains money for a resilience coordinator to help the subcabinet’s work in the future and also coordinate better with local emergency management agencies across the state and help them better prepare for earthquakes.

“We know that only by coordinating all of our federal, state, county, local and tribal government resources can we achieve our common objectives,” Inslee wrote in his directive.


Major earthquakes in Washington since 1880.