Editorial: Small shaker, big reminder

Last Wednesday’s small earthquake centered two miles southeast of Coupeville served as an important reminder to Whidbey Island residents.

The 3.7 magnitude shake reminded us that we live in one of the most earthquake-prone regions in the U.S., and it’s only a matter of time before a really big one hits us, and we’d better be prepared.

The last sizable earthquake was the 6.8 magnitude Nisqually quake in 2001, centered near Olympia. It rattled rooms and caused pots and pans to clang on Whidbey Island and knocked down hundreds of chimneys throughout the region, but damage was otherwise slight. It, too, was only a warning of bigger things to come.

Whidbey Island sits on top of two earthquake fault zones, one crossing the island roughly from Coupeville to Langley, and the other cutting across the northern tip of the island. Experts were quoted in a Whidbey News-Times story last September as saying these could produce earthquakes ranging up to magnitude 7.5. At that level, an earthquake can have devastating results.

Even more threatening is the Cascadia Subduction Zone which scientists say gives way an average of every 500 years, the last occurring about 300 years ago. Such an earthquake can measure magnitude 9.2, last five to six minutes, flatten an entire region and produce an enormous tsunami. For a reference, check the effects of the earthquake in Sumatra, Indonesia, in 2004. Scientists estimate there’s a 10 percent chance of that happening sometime over the next 50 years, maybe tomorrow.

It’s up to each homeowner to decide how best to get ready for the next “big one.” Houses should be secured to their foundation, as has been code since the 1980’s. Check to make sure your house is properly secured. Also, make sure heavy items in the house are secured, so if they fall or slide across the floor they won’t hurt someone. Make sure you know how to shut off the gas or electricity to your house, and drill members of the household as to what to do if the earth starts shaking. Generally it’s best to take cover under a sturdy table or stand in a doorway. Find our how to prepare at the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s Web site: www.fema.gov/areyouready/earthquakes.shtm.

Finally, there’s the matter of earthquake insurance. Whidbey Island insurance agents say less than half of all homeowners are covered for an earthquake. Such insurance can be relatively expensive, but that must be weighted against the cost of substantially or totally rebuilding your house. Again, it’s a personal decision but one that every property owner living in this earthquake-prone area should thoroughly study.

There have been plenty of warnings about earthquakes in recent years. If you’re not prepared there’s no one to blame but yourself.

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