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public safety

An unreinforced masonry wall fails a shake test at the University of British Columbia
Courtesy of UBC

Seattle has 1,100 old brick buildings that are especially vulnerable to collapsing in a big earthquake. Few have been retrofitted to withstand a major seismic event.

Now researchers at the University of British Columbia say they’ve come up with a cheap, fast way to reinforce such buildings: spray them with bendable concrete.

Crews at the Hanford Site in southeast Washington state are running through rehearsals and last minute details. In early October, they’ll begin pouring grout, a kind of thin cement, into a partially collapsed tunnel full of highly contaminated radioactive waste.

Last week’s earthquake in Mexico provided another reminder about the risks of poorly reinforced buildings. According to government studies, there are literally thousands of older brick and concrete buildings in Oregon and Washington that could collapse in a strong earthquake.

A scene from a simulation by the Washington State Department of Transportation of what could happen if a massive earthquake hits the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
YouTube/WSDOT

Seconds before last week's 7.1 magnitude earthquake in Mexico City, people got an alert that the ground was about to start shaking. The Sistema de Alerta Sismica Mexicano, or SASMEX, gives people a chance to get under a desk or leave a building before the shaking begins. 

Intelligence experts say North Korea is several years or more away from having the capability to threaten the U.S. West Coast with a nuclear missile. But recent sabre rattling was enough to make Washington state senators hold a hearing Wednesday about preparedness.

In the event of a nuclear strike there are state laws that literally ban Washington state officials from doing a part of their job.

The state of Oregon forecasts up to 1 million people may pour in to watch the total solar eclipse on August 21. Emergency planners in central and eastern Oregon are hoping eclipse chasers will fill out a short online survey to help them staff up appropriately.

Having a phone in your hand while driving could cost you $136 under the new law.
Flickr/Ricardo Velasquez https://flic.kr/p/bh7gq8 (CC BY-ND 2.0)

A change in a Washington state law aims to crack down on distracted driving. It takes effect on July 23.

About 20 percent of baby food samples tested over a decade-long period had detectable levels of lead, according to a new report from Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit group.

The group evaluated data collected by the Food and Drug Administration from 2003 to 2013. This included 2,164 baby food samples. They found 89 percent of grape juice samples, 86 percent of sweet potatoes samples and 47 percent of teething biscuits samples contained detectable levels of lead.

The director of Michigan's Department of Health and Human Services, Nick Lyon, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and misconduct in office over the Flint water crisis. Both are felonies in Michigan.

The state's chief medical executive, Dr. Eden Wells, will be charged with obstruction of justice. Four other officials, including the former Flint emergency manager and former director of public works, were also charged with involuntary manslaughter.

We all know that cellphones and driving can be a dangerous mix, and yet a quick glance at the sound of a ping can be irresistible to many motorists.

So beyond turning off your cellphone or leaving it at home, Apple has a new solution aimed at keeping drivers' eyes off the screen and on the road. When Apple's iOS 11 update comes out this fall, it will include a "Do Not Disturb While Driving" mode.

Forecasters say the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, which begins Thursday, could bring "above-normal" storm activity. Residents along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts are making sure they have supplies and plans in place if a storm hits.

Ariana Grande has canceled shows in London and put her tour on hold following Monday's bombing at a concert in Manchester that killed 22 people and injured dozens more.

Yesterday Britain's prime minister Theresa May put the country on high alert, deploying the military to help guard against another attack while police investigate whether more people were involved in Monday's bombing.

Twenty percent of children who were in a car crash where someone died were not buckled in properly or were not wearing a seat belt at all, a study finds, as were 43 percent of children who died themselves.

And child fatality rates in deadly car crashes vary widely by state.

Residents of Airway Heights, Washington, have been advised not to drink water from the tap. The advisory came Tuesday from nearby Fairchild Air Force Base, as part of the Pentagon’s program to test and clean water sources near military bases around the country.

Updated at 5:45 p.m. ET

The Department of Energy has declared an emergency at a nuclear-contaminated site in Washington state, after soil caved in over a portion of a tunnel containing rail cars contaminated with nuclear waste.

"All personnel in the immediate area have been accounted for — they are safe — and there is no evidence of a radiological release," Destry Henderson, spokesperson for the Hanford site's emergency operations center, said in a brief statement on Facebook.

The U.S. Department of Energy issued an emergency alert Tuesday morning at the Hanford site north of Richland, Washington, after a tunnel at a radioactive cleanup site caved in. Workers at a former chemical processing plant were evacuated and thousands more across Hanford were directed to take shelter indoors.

State and federal officials said all workers were accounted for, there were no injuries and no indication of “release” of radioactivity into the environment. By early afternoon, the employees taking shelter were given permission to go home except those needed for emergency response.

It's the oldest and most basic form of transportation — walking — and more people are doing more of it to get fit or stay healthy. But there's new evidence today that even walking across the street is getting more dangerous.

Big earthquakes happen infrequently enough in the Northwest that people can be lulled into complacency. That’s not the case in Japan.

Most large Japanese cities have at least one disaster training center, where people can learn in realistic simulators what to do in an earthquake, typhoon or fire. Leaders from the Pacific Northwest who have seen these centers say it’s a concept worth copying.

Oregon lawmakers are considering a measure that would make it illegal to check your social media feeds while you're behind the wheel. A House panel takes up the bill Monday afternoon.

Several Jewish community centers across the U.S. were targeted by bomb threats on Monday, according to the JCC Association of North America, in the fourth wave of such threats in the past two months.

In total, there have been 69 threats at 54 JCCs, in 27 states and a Canadian province, the organization reports — including previous threats on Jan. 9, 18 and 31, as well as 11 threats by telephone on Monday.

Northwest residents are surrounded by thousands of dams, some in disrepair. And now the emergency at California’s Oroville Dam has sharpened interest in dam safety.

Multiple destructive storm systems damaged property and killed at least 19 people over the weekend, and continued to batter much of the U.S. with rain, snow and wind today.

All 19 reported deaths were in the South, where apparent tornadoes ripped through towns over the weekend, damaging and destroying buildings in multiple states.

"Trailers are just flat, just laid on top of people," Debbie Van Brackel, a volunteer EMT in Adel, Ga., told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Sunday. "You need a bulldozer to pull it off. Trailers are upside down."

A new tsunami survival option has come to the Pacific Northwest coast. It involves climbing into a spherical aluminum pod for what is sure to be the ride of your life.

Long Beach, Washington, has an earthquake and tsunami preparedness problem shared with some other low-lying coastal Northwest places such as Seaside, Oregon, and Ocean Shores, Washington. Many townspeople and visitors likely couldn’t reach high ground in time to escape a tsunami.

White River starts on Mount Rainier where it picks up a lot of sediment that can lead to flooding downstream.
Flickr Photo/brewbooks (CC BY SA 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/ajniMm

Heavy rainfall puts stress on Seattle area rivers, especially White River between Auburn and Buckley.

The riverbed is gradually rising, and it can't hold as much water as it used to. That has county and weather officials taking extra steps to prepare for flooding.

Gabriella Garrett, Colleen Andersonn Marci Oliveri went for a ride on the earthquake simulator Tuesday afternoon.
KUOW Photo/Katherine Banwell

The city of Seattle invited the public to a "Big Shaker" event Tuesday at Westlake Park to be part of an earthquake simulation and nudge people to prepare for the inevitable.

KUOW's Katherine Banwell went along for the ride and sent us this audio postcard featuring Dean Reese, CEO of Ready America; simulator participants Gabriella Garrett, Colleen Anderson and Marci Oliveri; and Matt Auflick of the Seattle Office of Emergency Management.

A Winchester Safes representative sets the lock on one of several gun safes on display at the 35th annual SHOT Show, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, in Las Vegas.
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Kim Malcolm talks with Dr. Joseph Simonetti about the public health implications of safe firearm storage. His research finds that adolescents with risk factors for suicide are often easily able to access guns in their homes. Simonetti is Instructor of Medicine at the University of Colorado Denver.

To millions of people in New York on Monday morning, the first word of a suspect in the New York and New Jersey bombings arrived at 8 a.m. with a jarring, screeching sound of their mobile phones.

Screens lit up across New York City with an emergency alert: "WANTED: Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28-year-old male. See media for pic. Call 9-1-1 if seen."

The recent police shootings of African-American men in Louisiana and Minnesota have reignited the debate over use of deadly force. That was on the mind of a black community leader in Washington state as she strapped on a gun belt and took aim inside a state-of-the-art training simulator for police.

At the Washington State Patrol Academy in Shelton, Corporal Lori Hinds guides a pair of visitors into what looks like a walk-in video game. Inside five, large video screens form a 300-degree computer-generated environment.

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