Editorial: Let’s get ready for the big one

Island County has an ad in the paper seeking an Emergency Management Coordinator, the second time in less than a year that the position has been vacant. This alone should tell us that maybe we’re not ready for “the big one,” meaning a big earthquake followed, perhaps, by a big tsunami.

County, city, town and fire district officials have addressed the issue on and off for decades. There may still be a few 20-year-old “Tsunami Warning” signs stuck in the sand out there, directing people to higher ground. And Oak Harbor has an early warning device called AHAB that can broadcast voice messages to the public. The earthquake and ensuing tsunami in Japan wasn’t enough to set it off, and islanders more or less watched curiously to see if they could notice any sign of the tsunami. We did not see any official warnings on the local cable TV station or hear them on the local radio station.

When the big one does hit, thousands of islanders will be in danger. Geological records show signs of a tsunami sweeping down Admiralty Inlet all the way to Scatchet Head on the south end of the island. Scientists have warned that could happen again if the future earthquake is centered off Washington’s coast. Another scenario is an earthquake in southern Puget Sound, setting of a tsunami heading directly toward Oak Harbor. The possible damage is limited only by one’s imagination and scientific knowledge.

For many years we’ve been lucky, but our luck will eventually run out. When the big one does hit we may have just a matter of minutes to evacuate everyone living along the waterfront up to a predetermined height based of scientific information.

This will take a lot of planning and interdepartmental communication, as well as practice drills in which the public takes part with little or no notice. We all should know where to go when the big one hits, and emergency personnel should know how to direct us there. We can start by finding and hiring the best possible candidate for Emergency Management Coordinator, not some good ol’ boy or gal who’s been around a long time and knows a lot of people on the island. It’s time to get serious about preparing for the big one.



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