Monday, November 26, 2012

Earthquake (Simulation)

When we took the tour of our soon-to-be apartment, the woman giving the tour mentioned, offhandedly, something about an earthquake.  To be honest, I can't remember how it came up, maybe I mentioned something about hurricanes at home, or something. And I think I replied, cavalierly, something like "Yeah, we had earthquakes in New Jersey too."

She pointed to a nearby highway, that runs about two blocks from our building and said something like "I always drive a little bit faster when I go through that part of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Because if there's an earthquake, the top level will fall down onto the bottom level..."  Honestly, I didn't think much of it. Lots of things could happen, right?

One night since then, Jon was on his laptop and commented something about how he had found the earthquake information she was talking about. In 2001, during the Nisqually earthquake (you know it's big when it has a name), the viaduct was damaged. Building has begun on a safer tunnel, and inspections of the existing damage continue to find ongoing settlement. I don't know why I didn't get alarmed by this, but, again, I didn't think much of it. But, obviously, Jon thought enough of it to look into it.

Yesterday, coming home from Ballard Market, I missed the exit of Route 99 and found myself on the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Jon commented, "This is the highway that she was talking about, for the earthquake."  I asked, "What? We'll fall off into the ocean? That could happen anywhere."  Jon said "No, the top level will fall down onto this level and we'll be sandwiched between." Oh.

This morning I called to set up renters insurance, which we have to have when we pick up our keys on Saturday. At the end of the fifty minute call, the man asked "Is there any other kind of coverage I can interest you in? Flood? Earthquake?"  Remembering the earlier comments about the earthquake, and knowing that sometimes adding more insurance coverage only costs a few extra dollars, I replied, "Sure, tell me about earthquake insurance. What does it cover and how much does it cost?"

"Alright, let me plug in your address... Oh... Hmm... Well, I apologize, I should not have offered you earthquake coverage. That address is in a "do not cover" zone."

"What does that mean?"

"It means that address is in an area of very high risk of costly damage in the event of an earthquake."

"So, our renters insurance wouldn't cover that? Would anything be covered?"

"We don't offer anything to cover that. What you want is, maybe, life insurance."

Oh. Um. Hmm. That's a little pessimistic, isn't it?

That led me to do my own googling.  Apparently, the waterfront area is perfect for views, not so perfect for earthquakes.

In 2006, Washington State DOT predicted a 1-in-20 chance that the viaduct would be closed by an earthquake within the next ten years. There are systems in place that can close the entire viaduct within two minutes if ground movement is detected. I'm not sure where those cars go (probably onto my street), but it sounds like they're being proactive about this thing.

In 2005, a group of University of Washington faculty asked the Mayor of Seattle to "close the sinking structure within a suggested two-year timeframe."   Source:  Seattle Times Opinion: Shut Down the Viaduct

And if you're a visual learner, there's this helpful video, from the Washington State DOT, showing what will happen to the viaduct in the event of another Nisqually-like earthquake.

(Turn your volume down because the music is really annoying.) 

The bottom line, for those who skipped this whole post?  Things are not looking so good here in the event of an earthquake. 

But at least we don't get hurricanes.


  1. At least the insurance company rep didn't deem you too risky for life insurance. It could be worse!