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Sunday, May 24, 2020

Is Western prepared for an earthquake?

By Hailey Jostmeyer

The dangers of an earthquake might seem like a far off problem, but experts warn that the big one could hit any day.

A 2010 Hazard Identification Vulnerability Analysis states Whatcom County is in moderate to critical risk of an earthquake due to its proximity to the Cascadia subduction zone.

Western is required by legislature to establish safety plans and procedures. The legislature also specified that schools are in a position to serve the community in the event of a disaster.

Jackie Caplan-Auerbach is an associate dean of the College of Science and Engineering and associate geology professor. She said the biggest challenge for Western and the entire state is keeping buildings up to code with the most recent scientific findings of where and what the dangers are surrounding fault lines.

“From an underground perspective, different rocks shake to different degrees,” she said. “We see a lot of shaking from underrock made of sediments like sandstone. The most concerning geological locations will be anywhere with unconsolidated sediment that is water saturated.”

According to the United States Geological Survey, the soil in Western Washington is made of poor to moderate unconsolidated sediments like sandstone, siltstone and claystone. Western is on this type of sediment.

Caplan-Auerbach said the reason these types of areas can be dangerous is because the shaking is greater and underlying rock can become like soup.

Paul Cocke, director of communications and marketing for Western, said since the 1990s, the university incorporated seismic upgrades during major renovation work on campus to keep buildings up to code. He said a recent example of this is the renovation that was done on Carver Gym.

He did not comment on if other buildings on campus are not up to code.

The geology department has been concerned with the risk of developing on the waterfront, especially with what could happen in the case of an earthquake, The Western Front reported. The waterfront area being developed is mostly made up of unconsolidated sediment and artificial fill. Western is still hoping to build on the waterfront.

Western library circulation manager, Michelle Becker, shows off the emergency kit behind the circulation desk. In the event of an emergency such as an earthquake, an employee will grab the vests and walkie talkie and begin evacuating students from the library into safe zones. // Photo by October Yates

The university’s 2017 Emergency Food Service Plan states at any point in time Western dining services has about a five day supply of food to sustain the 4,000 students on meal plans during the academic year. If Aramark were to ration the food to 2,800 calories per student a day, they could feed the same amount of students for seven days. The plan said timing of deliveries and an emergency event could impact the amount of food available.

Depending on the overall damage on campus after an earthquake, Cocke said Western will work with Aramark dining services to provide necessary food for students in residence halls and personnel responding to the crisis.

Cocke said the university is listed as a Federal Emergency Management Agency Point of Distribution meaning Western could be a location for the city and county to get emergency supplies and food from FEMA.

FEMA recommends 72 hours or a three-day supply of emergency supplies,” Cocke said. “The Washington State Division of Emergency Management encourages people to be two weeks ready for anything. So Western is in the middle.”

“If you can take care of yourself, you’re an asset to the community.”

John Gargett, deputy director of Whatcom County’s Division of Emergency Management

Organizations such as the Washington State Division of Emergency Management recommend having a two week supply, as it may take awhile for help to come.

In the case that no potable water is available, University residences will be responsible for coordinating bottled water delivery from their vendor Walton Beverage.  

However, damage to infrastructure could leave residents on their own until emergency responders and others can reach them.

John Gargett, the deputy director of Whatcom County’s Division of Emergency Management, said landslides caused by earthquakes can block off major highways like I-5, making it harder to get help into the city quickly.

He said there will be an unknown amount of time before emergency responders can reach residents and individuals should plan on being self-resilient.

“There’s no simple answer for how to be prepared for an earthquake,” Gargett said. “Stop what you’re doing, let it happen and take cover if you need to. There’s nothing you can do to stop it from happening.”

He said residents should create emergency plans with neighbors and work with their community so that emergency responders can helps those who are in more severe situations.

“If you can take care of yourself, you’re an asset to the community,” Gargett said.

While The Western Front did not receive the full emergency plan updated in 2017 from Western, an earlier plan from 2015 mentioned gathering tents from different departments and the Outdoor Center, using the Wade King Recreation Center pool as a water source and having residents sign up for security shifts in the dorms to prevent looting.

The Great Washington ShakeOut is a statewide event created to get individuals prepared for a large earthquake in the Pacific Northwest.

University Police Chief and Director of Public Safety, Darin Rasmussen said Western didn’t participate in last year’s drill because it was scheduled the same day of an active shooter drill and the emergency preparedness team didn’t want to confuse students.

He said the university will have an emphasis on earthquake preparedness in April with the city of Bellingham.

Western’s Emergency Response Guide gives instructions for individuals who are on campus during and after a disaster.

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