In Charles Wallace’s mind, it always starts off with the ground shaking. At buildings across the county, framed pictures fall off walls, shelves and anything on them topple over onto floors and ceiling tiles in offices drop down from overhead. Some buildings will sink lower into the ground as the earthquake vibrations effectively, but temporarily, turn the land under structure foundations into sludge in a process called liquefaction. Still some other buildings, stripped of the support of their foundations, simply collapse under their own weight.
In the moments that follow, anyone in Grays Harbor County that lives on the coast, will run to high ground as fast as possible. Those who live inland will pour out into the streets and wait. Then the counting will start. People will try to account for who is alive and make some record of anyone who was killed.
This week, government offices and businesses across Gray’s Harbor County will participate in The Great Shakeout, an international effort to educate people about earthquake preparation and safety techniques. Wallace, the deputy director of the Grays Harbor County Emergency Management department, said the event is a great opportunity for people in the area to refresh their knowledge about basic techniques to prevent injuries in an earthquake.
“That’s the reason why we do exercises like this, to provide you with the information you need to survive,” Wallace said.
Due to its location in a region known as “The Ring of Fire,” and the Juan De Fuca tectonic plate that sits off the coast, Washington is in one of the most seismically active places in the world. As the years pass and seismic pressure builds up along the plate and others in the state, the possibility of a major earthquake in Washington becomes not a question of “if,” but “when” and how bad. Grays Harbor and Pacific Counties sit on top of the Cascadia Subduction zone, of which the Juan De Fuca fault line is a part. Major earthquakes happen along the zone every 300 to 600 years. Using geological evidence and historical records from Japan, scientists believe the last Cascadia zone earthquake that could qualify as a “big one” happened on Jan. 26, 1700.
Other counties across the state will participate in the exercise as well. Washington is being joined by Alaska, California, Oregon, Utah and numerous states across the region. British Columbia, Japan, New Zealand and southern Italy are also participating.
On Thursday at 10:18, the All Hazard Alert Broadcast (AHAB) warning alarm will give off a three-minute blast. The alarm will include the message, “This is a test of the AHAB system. If you are in a low, coastal area test your evacuation route now. If this had been a real emergency, you should follow evacuation routes. Move to higher ground or inland now. Do not delay. Do not return until directed to do so. Tune Into your local radio stations for further instructions. This was only a test.” NOAA radios will not activate during the test.
When alarms sound, the immediate response should be to “drop, cover and hold on.” In short, drop to the floor, get under a table and hold on for life. After this part of the exercise, some participants are going to report to assembly areas to be counted.
Non-participants can expect delays at certain businesses and government offices, including the County Courthouse.
The Hoquiam Police Department is also planning on going to an assembly area and testing some of its communications equipment.