Residents urged to prepare for potentially devastating earthquake on Whidbey fault

Should a powerful earthquake hit the South Whidbey Island Fault, which scientists say is among the most hazardous in Western Washington, one group of Bayview homeowners will be ready.

The Useless Bay Shores Homeowners Association and South Whidbey Fire/EMS Chief Rusty Palmer led an hour and a half presentation on emergency preparedness Wednesday at the Freeland library.

Included in the meeting were a variety of topics including earthquake response, a basic overview of the neighborhood’s Community Emergency Response Team  or CERT, what happens to an unprepared neighborhood in a disaster and personal self-preparedness. Community members were also allowed a chance to voice their concerns and opinions.

The meeting was held in light of studies that show South Whidbey’s fault is capable of producing a 7.5 magnitude earthquake. Palmer predicted that a quake of that strength could damage up to 60 percent of structures on South Whidbey. With the fire department coming off a record-setting year in responses, it’s easy to see how a powerful earthquake could make a bad situation even worse.

“It’s really important that communities and individuals are prepared for disaster,” Palmer said. “When it happens, Fire/EMS will be struggling just like everybody else.”

One of the more important points to be taken into consideration, said Palmer, is that it’s not a question of “if” the earthquake will strike but “when.” In other words, it is better to know the dangers of a potential disaster and how to respond than be left in the dark.

Palmer presented ways to prepare homes for disaster, such as securing household items not tied to the foundation, and increasing the survivability of a structure. He also discussed methods for personal preparedness and neighbor-wide preparedness. Having a “go-bag” with items like an aid kit, food, water, bedding and or sleeping bags will make all the difference in the event of an emergency.

Mike Noblet, president of the Useless Bay Shores Homeowners Association, said that out of 49 counties across the state, Island County is ranked 23rd in priority of state-wide response. Noblet said that the ferry could be out of service for up to two months, leaving residents isolated.

A “9 Pillars Personal Emergency Plan” document given to attendees listed steps to prepare for disaster. Steps include preserving important documents in a fire proof safe, building a survival kit that would last a minimum of 10 days, a hardware kit including battery-powered lanterns and a wrench to turn off propane tanks, and sleeping and hygiene kits.

Sue Andrews, a CERT-trained volunteer and Useless Bay Shores resident, talked in-depth about her personal experience with a devastating earthquake in the late 80s. She survived the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, a 6.9 magnitude quake that killed 63 people and injured 3,757.

“I can’t say enough about the value of taking the CERT training and the strong awareness it gives you on what could happen and how to act,” Andrews said.

“I’m not afraid of living on the fault, I just think we need to be prepared and ready to function should something happen,” she said.

Gail Lischeid explained the purpose of CERT and why it is crucial for not only individuals, but also the community.

Steve Andrews, husband of Sue, presented an inventory of emergency supplies that could be stockpiled and how it would be stored. The list of supplies, which were drawn from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA, recommended lists for emergency and disaster preparedness, as well as a proposed 6×8 shed to store the supplies.