Region not fully prepared for disaster | COMMENTARY

Is the Puget Sound region – home to more than 4.5 million people – adequately prepared for a disaster?

Is the Puget Sound region – home to more than 4.5 million people – adequately prepared for a disaster?

That’s a tough one to answer comprehensively, many emergency preparedness experts admit.

While the “big one” may be tricky to predict, experts know for certain that the region is prone to natural disasters.

And that for the Seattle area, fractured as it is with fault lines, earthquakes top the list.

Overlooking the valley, mighty Mount Rainier has been dormant since its last eruption around 1100 AD. But its activity – combined with its proximity to Seattle and Tacoma – makes any eruption there one of the most dangerous in the world, according to the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior’s Decade Volcano list.

Such potential events concern Dr. Stephen Flynn of Northeastern University, a professor and one of the world’s experts on disaster resilience. Dealing with disaster is sort of his business, a source of his intense study.

Flynn recently visited Seattle to talk with local leaders about the region’s readiness for a catastrophic event. Flynn, now leading a major study in the aftermath of SuperStorm Sandy that will be presented to Congress and the Obama administration, is soliciting responses to his study from leaders throughout the country.

Upon his review, Flynn says, Puget Sound area leaders are paying attention to the warning signs, but concludes the region and notably its residents are no more fully prepared to deal with a disaster than are other parts of the country. Outside of emergency management professionals, too few of us spend any time considering how prepared our communities are, Flynn noted.

“Your emergency management community is about as on top of it as anywhere in our country in terms of understanding the kinds of risk and working to prepare for those risk,” Flynn said. “(But) your area, like much of the country, is not where it needs to be.

“Increasingly, as citizens, we expect the professionals to take care of this. . . . When something goes wrong, we pay for emergency managers . . . fire and police . . . they’re supposed to fix this stuff,” Flynn said.

“The reality is . . . it certainly came through from the Katrina and Sandy experiences … that the first-responders are almost always your family, your neighbor or the stranger near you. There’s not enough professionals around,” Flynn said.

Flynn said he believes the lessons learned from SuperStorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina can help our region better prepare for such an event.

But it remains a challenge.

While cities, such as Renton, are equipped to mobilize in the event of a more isolated flood or mudslide, the region as a whole needs to better prepare for a widespread disaster.

Flynn hopes the country, region by region, broadens its commitment to become better prepared for these events, both in terms of negating the risks and recovering quickly from a crisis.

It’s not a matter of “if” disaster strikes but when, Flynn says.

“It will happen. We will have a major disaster in the Puget Sound area. It is almost certainly going to be a major earthquake,” he said. “I state that out front because to the larger extent . . . every part of our country has gone through a disaster.

“We wait until they happen, and we cope well when they happen. . . . But what we know is they are less frequent than we often presume them to be, and there’s a lot more we know about them now and what we can do about them in terms of reducing their impact.”

Regions need to better prepared for a disaster, considering the geographical dependency on infrastructure, the power grid, water, communication and extended transportation, Flynn cautioned.

The Seattle region is a global leader in technology and advanced manufacturing, as well as a major military hub that depends on the reliable operation of critical infrastructures in the energy, transportation, communications and IT sectors. A major disaster has the potential to endanger millions of lives and cause major disruptions to our communities and businesses, as well as undermine the capacity for the U.S. military to carry out its national security mission, Flynn noted.

“(For instance) Seattle and Tacoma are the umbilical cord to Alaska in terms of all its logistical needs,” he said. “If you get knocked down, then Alaska will feel it.”

But, in the aftermath of a disaster, we somehow recover.

“I can always find things that I wished we had done up front to basically reduce the mayhem that was caused. But I often always marvel at our capacity to work our way through these things and get back on our feet,” Flynn said. “My message is we just try to do both. We should spend equal measure and efforts to anticipate and prepare and reduce the cost of these events as well as pat ourselves on the back about how quickly we bounce back.”

Beyond the professional community, residents need to take more personal responsibility in emergency preparedness. Not everyone is risk literate, Flynn acknowledges, but it’s a civic duty for those who are physically able to become trained, ready and willing to help their neighbors in times of trouble.

“They will almost certainly happen,” Flynn said of disasters, man-made or natural. “We just hope they don’t happen tomorrow.”

Mark Klass is the editor of the Kent Reporter. He can be reached at mklaas@kentreporter.com


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@rentonreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.rentonreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in Opinion

Catch each other during this fall

How we can use the quarantine to reflect on necessary social changes

To our elected officials: Be bold, be consistent, be honest, be helpful

By Patrick Grubb, Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Governor Jay Inslee has been… Continue reading

Letters to the editor for the week of March 13

Reader worries about the county’s reach Dear editor, The article regarding King… Continue reading

As the deadline nears, state lawmakers face a few challenges

There are four major decisions lawmakers are tackling before the end of this legislative session.

A tax break for working families

As rents continue to climb in our communities, as food prices continue… Continue reading

Accelerating equity in STEM education in the Puget Sound

At the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB), headquartered in Seattle’s South Lake… Continue reading

Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-11
It’s hard to do homework when you don’t have a home

We have heard it a million times — a good education is… Continue reading

Letters to the editor for the week of Feb. 14

Tommy the turtle — a childhood friend Dear editor, “Tommy the Turtle”… Continue reading

Guest opinion: Legislative ‘wants’ and ‘needs’

With a third of the legislative session nearly gone, lawmakers are starting… Continue reading

How far will Artificial Intelligence go?

The smartest Jeopardy contestant was beaten by a computer. So was the… Continue reading

Confirmation bias in the impeachment proceedings

Most of us believe what we want to believe. Our natural tendency… Continue reading

Letters to the editor for the week of Jan. 31

Voting can bring us together Dear editor, In response to Jerry Cornfield’s… Continue reading