Feb 022009

In the 1980’s, one of the big geological questions was, “Is the Cascadia Subduction Zone magically greased?” The issue was, would it slide smoothly or stick dangerously, Brian Atwater told a large assemblage at the Lummi Island Grange Hall. Atwater is a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Earthquake Hazards Team.

“It’s a detective story, with the earth giving the clues”, Atwater said, as he showed a slide of a 2005 dig where layers of sand indicated when tsunamis had occurred in Sumatra, one about every 600 years. Forces at the epicenter in the Indian Ocean, stuck for hundreds of years, broke loose in December 2004 and created a 9.0 magnitude earthquake. Through uplift and subsidence, a series of immense waves wreaked havoc and devastation on millions of people. Had that geologist made her discovery a few years earlier, those people may have been warned of the possibility.

Ancient writings and trees rings solved another detective story. In 1700, Japan experienced an “orphan tsunami”. Six writings preserved from Japan described the “orphan tsunami”, the only one from 1536 to 1995 that could not be associated with perceivable “shaking” in Chile or Peru. However, dendrochronologist David Yamaguchi, working with Atwater at the University of Washington in 1997, proved through tree ring analysis that a massive earthquake occurred in the Cascadia Subduction Zone in 1700. The force was sufficient to explain the Japanese tsunami of the same year.

Following Atwater’s presentation, Terry Terry, chair of the Lummi Island Community Association that hosted the event, introduced Stacy Fawell, from the Department of Natural Resources of the Lummi Nation. She outlined the earthquake/tsunami preparation and mitigation steps taken by the Lummi Nation. Their multihazard mitigation plan, created with assistance from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), identifies and strategizes necessary efforts. They established and mapped tsunami evacuation routes with the help of the State Department of Natural Resources and posted evacuation route signs. They purchased and installed a tsunami warning system consisting of three siren towers.

To discuss the Lummi Island emergency preparations, Terry surprised John Granger, the director of Lummi Island’s emergency management activities, with an invitation to take the floor. He said he had observed the small villages outside the major cities affected by hurricane Katrina had to wait a long time for help. He asked Fire Chief Duncan McLane if Lummi Island was prepared for a similar event. He reports that Chief McLane said, “No we’re not, why don’t you take care of that?”

Bringing together the NGOs (non-government organizations), churches, water districts, and other community residents, several members attended a State Emergency Management Conference. There they learned about the Map Your Neighborhood concept. They decided on a three-step process for their island: first organize, then create maps and do table top exercises, and, finally, do a full community drill. He says they have been working on step one for three years, but actually, a large percentage of the island is mapped.

The group has identified: landing zones for sea and land planes; special hazards on the island such as the water reservoir above a residential development; Red Cross shelters (the Grange Hall being one, with an emergency kitchen); healthcare providers able to serve during an emergency; equipment and medications needed for a “push package” from the Wasjington State Department of Emergency Management. First Aid Training is going on now, and they are considering CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) training.

The Fire District leads Lummi Island’s Emergency Management program and they recommend every individual maintain a seven-day emergency kit of food, water and necessary supplies.

Kathy Berg, chair of the Birch Bay Steering Committee; Doralee Booth, vice-chair of the Steering Committee and chair of the Public Safety and Transportation Subcommittee, and Ruth Higgins, leader of the Emergency Preparedness Task Force attended at the invitation of Ms. Terry.


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