Nisqually earthquake 20 years later; are we prepared for the next big one?

It’s been 20 years since the Nisqually earthquake shook the region. It was one of the biggest earthquakes to rattle the area in decades.

KIRO 7 spoke to a panel of experts, the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, and from the state, who reflected on their memories of that day.

“I was on 45th Ave NE at the Starbucks there when the shaking started. A student of mine had to grab me and say it’s an earthquake - we got to go,” recounted Bill Steele from the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network.

“I was in college. And I was sitting down and I was talking to a friend on the phone and I had just stood up. And when the earthquake started I thought I had stepped too fast. And then I saw some trees swaying outside,” added Maximilian Dixon with Washington’s Emergency Management Division.

“I felt the first shock. And then started counting. And about 10 seconds or so later, I felt a stronger one,” said professor Ken Creager, a seismologist at the University of Washington.

It ended up causing about 2 billion dollars in damage. Hundreds were hurt. And one person died from a heart attack.

“We were tremendously lucky that no one was killed from the earthquake as it occurred. And that the earthquake wasn’t just a little bit larger, a little bit longer in duration, a little bit stronger in shaking, we would have had much more damage due to liquefaction, due to failure of these unreinforced masonry buildings. So we really dodged a bullet with this earthquake to a degree,” Steele said.

It was a wake-up call to the seismic activity facing the area.

“There’s no question that an earthquake like the Nisqually one could happen again,” said Harold Tobin, director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network.

“We’ve had 3 big earthquakes in the same general area. Should we be ready for that same kind of earthquake anywhere along the coast?” Creager added.

That’s why in the 20 years since the Nisqually quake, the state has built the first tsunami refuge along the coast at Ocosta Elementary School.

Other improvements have also been made to get the state more earthquake ready. The old Alaskan Way viaduct is gone. The state replaced the 520 bridge. The city of Seattle got a new sea wall. In May, the state plans to roll out ShakeAlert, an earthquake early warning system that could give people precious seconds to take cover before an earthquake hits.

But more needs to be done.

KIRO 7 asked where funding should be prioritized.

“First of all, I think our most vulnerable buildings, unreinforced masonry buildings, especially schools. That is primary. We have got to protect our children,” Dixon said.

For more information on earthquake preparedness >> https://mil.wa.gov/emergency-management-division