Where will you go when the Big One hits? | KUOW News and Information

Where will you go when the Big One hits?

Jun 6, 2016

After a big earthquake it could take 10 days for help to arrive, so neighborhoods will be on their own.

The City of Seattle says communication hubs would allow neighbors to meet up. Many neighborhoods already have a natural meeting place, but a major earthquake brings complications.

The Good Shepherd Center, for example, is both a communications hub and a URM: an old building with unreinforced masonry. It is among 1,100 unreinforced masonry buildings the city of Seattle says would be dangerous after a major earthquake. But it’s the only one KUOW could find that is also an earthquake communications hub. 

The city says these buildings, which are often institutional, brick low-rises designed to hold lots of people, are likely to be unsafe in a severe earthquake. Seattle may face a magnitude 9 earthquake which could cause severe damage – to these brick buildings and to the city at large.

Officials do not like to speculate about the severity of the earthquake that may come in our lifetime. “We expect our lives will be disrupted as we know it,” said Debbie Goetz, community planning coordinator for Seattle’s Office of Emergency Management.

Wood-framed houses could do all right in all the shaking. Still, it could take days for help to reach neighborhoods, and for authorities to set up campuses for shelter and services.

Goetz said the communications hub would allow an exchange of information with outsiders.

The Good Shepherd Center, built in 1906, was designated a hub several years ago, and Goetz said the group that did so has been less active of late. But the owner of the property, the city’s heritage arm Historic Seattle, said it was unaware that it was a hub.

Debbie Goetz in the mayor's policy room at the Seattle Office of Emergency Management. The map behind her is of the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
Credit KUOW Photo/Carolyn Adolph

Kji Kelly, executive director of Historic Seattle, said hearing from KUOW about the hub designation was “completely weird.”

He said it was “the first I had ever heard community hub in the same sentence as it relates to the Good Shepherd Center.”

This spring, Historic Seattle received a letter from the city confirming that the Good Shepherd needs to be retrofitted to be safe to people in or near the building. Kelly said Historic Seattle is committed to doing the work.

Goetz says the plan is for people at these hubs not to be indoors.

“It is typically outside,” she said. “It’s the playfield that they are using.”

But Kelly observed that in the cold and rain – an earthquake is unlikely to coincide with perfect weather – people will want to use any building available.

“We want this place to be a sanctuary at all times,” Kelly said. But he said the idea of a communications hub “needs to be baked a little bit more so that everyone understand the intricacies of it.”

This week’s Cascadia Rising exercise is another step toward doing just that.