New earthquake bill from Sen. Cantwell ‘critical to Washington state’

A bill sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell designed to help states prepare for and respond to earthquakes was signed into law Thursday.

Titled the “Earthquake Resilience Bill,” Cantwell’s office described it as “critical to Washington state” in a press release. Washington boasts the second highest risk of large-scale, damaging earthquakes in the country.

“Earthquakes are inevitable so it’s critical that we do all we can to prepare,” Cantwell said. “This legislation will help save lives and protect property in the Pacific Northwest and other areas prone to seismic disaster.”

The National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program Reauthorization Act (NEHRP) was introduced in 1977 to help earthquake-prone regions with infrastructure improvements and risk assessments. Cantwell’s new bill reauthorizes NEHRP, as well as doing the following:

  • Improving earthquake early warning systems
  • Helping stats prioritize earthquake preparedness
  • Providing ongoing preparedness assessments and long-term planning
  • Requiring updated, “state-of-the-art” maps for understanding local geographies
  • Cutting red tape to improve information sharing

The bill garnered bipartisan support from the likes of Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Patty Murray (D-WA), and more.

Washington at risk

Washington’s location along the Cascadia Subduction Zone has it constantly at risk for what some experts have dubbed “the Big One.” The problem, though, is the difficulty in predicting when and where it will occur.

“Prediction, I believe, is impossible … you don’t want me to predict every earthquake,” Dr. Lucy Jones told KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross in April 2018. “You want me to predict which of the thousands we record every day are going to turn out to be big enough to do some damage. That means the way a big and a small earthquake begin are going to have to be different. And as far as we can tell, they start the same way. We have no way of predicting at this point. If you hear about a prediction, it’s not coming from a scientist.”

That said, there’s still some degree of likelihood we could see the Big One soon.

“The definition of ‘the Big One’ isn’t really well-defined,” said Washington state seismologist Paul Bodin in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session in October. “Chance of an M9 megathrust? About 15 percent over the next 30 years.”