Planning for the megaquake, and after

Mar 11, 2013

Originally published March 9, 2013 at 10:14 PM | Page modified March 9, 2013 at 10:17 PM

Planning for the megaquake, and after

Two years after Japan’s megaquake and tsunami, the country is still struggling to recover. Facing the same kind of disaster, the Pacific Northwest is looking at steps to take over the coming decades to ensure that a monster quake here won’t send the region into a permanent economic tailspin.

By Sandi Doughton

Seattle Times science reporter

after Japan was rocked by the same type of monster quake and tsunami that will strike the Pacific Northwest someday, the world’s most seismically fortified nation faces another five to 10 years of rebuilding. Nearly 320,000 people are still in temporary housing. Mountains of debris have yet to be disposed of.

But Japan is recovering much more quickly than Washington and Oregon will if the next Cascadia megaquake strikes anytime soon, says Scott Miles, director of the Resilience Institute at Western Washington University.

Miles is helping lead an ambitious effort to boost the Northwest’s ability to bounce back from seismic disaster and avoid an economic and social tailspin that could cripple the region for decades to come.

Teams in Washington and Oregon recently completed the most detailed analyses undertaken of the damage expected from a major quake and tsunami. And for the first time, they’re looking way beyond the immediate aftermath to the weeks, months and years that will follow.

“We’re going to suffer loss and damage — it’s impossible to prevent all of that,” Miles said. “What we haven’t been doing ... until now is thinking about long-term recovery.”

Resilience plans for both states lay out a 50-year agenda for upgrading roads, utilities and buildings, and planning for the worst.

“A lot of this stuff can’t be done immediately,” said Tim Walsh, hazards chief for the Washington Department of Natural Resources. “But we want to get started.”

There’s no estimate of how much the upgrades would cost, but the reports paint a grim picture of the consequences if the region fails to act.

The economic impact of a magnitude 9.0 quake on the offshore fault called the Cascadia Subduction Zone is estimated at $49 billion in Washington and $32 billion in Oregon. (Japan’s March 11, 2011, quake was a magnitude 9.0.)

Estimates of the death toll from such a Cascadia quake and the tsunami it will trigger range as high as 10,000, with tens of thousands of people injured.

Utilities, businesses

The last time the subduction zone ripped was more than 300 years ago, in the year 1700.

Scientists have uncovered evidence for dozens of quakes in the past 10,000 years, with an average recurrence of about every 500 years. But some of the past quakes were separated by as little as two centuries.

After the dust settles from the next big one, if electrical power, water and telecommunications aren’t re-established within two to four weeks, businesses will start leaving the area, said Kent Yu, of Degenkolb Engineers, who chaired Oregon’s resilience planning.

If jobs vanish, people will follow and communities will fray, fueling a downward spiral.

“A policy of business as usual implies a post-quake future that could consist of decades of economic and population decline — in effect a ‘lost generation,’ ” Oregon’s report warns.

Washington’s report estimates it could take one to three months to restore power supplies to 70 percent of normal after a Cascadia Subduction Zone quake or a powerful quake on the Seattle Fault or another of the shallow faults that crisscross the state.

Fixing toppled transmission towers could take up to three years.

Water supplies and sewage treatment will be disrupted for weeks to months. In vulnerable areas like the Duwamish and Kent valleys, where shaking can liquefy soils and break pipes, residents can expect to line up at water trucks and use portable toilets for several months to a year.

Phone lines and Internet service won’t be back to normal for one to three months. With no power, people won’t be able to withdraw cash from ATMs.

With ports expected to be heavily damaged, Alaska’s food supply — most of which is shipped through Seattle — will be threatened.

Washington’s Transportation Department hopes to be able to open at least one lane on Interstates 5 and 90 in the Puget Sound area within a week, for emergency traffic. But full repairs to quake-damaged highways will take several years.

One lesson that emerged from the analyses is that the current advice to stock up on enough water and food to last three days is laughable, Yu said.

“You need to prepare for at least two weeks.”

Another eye-opener was the way so many things are interconnected, Miles said. Crews won’t be able to repair power lines until the roads are fixed. But road workers can’t roll without gasoline. And with no electricity, Internet and telephone service can’t be brought back online.

But Japan’s experience shows that much of the economic impacts can be reduced, Yu said. “It is completely doable.”

Japan better prepared

For decades, Japan had been replacing old sewer and water pipes with more seismically robust versions.

As a result, outages were repaired in days or weeks.

“In Seattle, we still have barrel pipes that are 105 years old, and we don’t have an aggressive program for upgrading that kind of stuff,” Miles said.

Japanese power companies also had scores of spare, high-voltage transformers on hand, as well as portable power substations.

But in the U.S., utilities keep few spares for the biggest transformers, which are vulnerable to damage and vital because they step down high-voltage electricity so it can be distributed.

After a quake, replacements would have to be built abroad, a process that can take six months to a year, Miles said.

The Washington report identified schools as the state’s top priority. Unlike Oregon, Washington has never surveyed schools statewide for seismic soundness.

Oregon’s review, ordered by the state Legislature, found that half of school buildings in the state are at high risk of collapse.

It’s important to get schools up and running quickly, not only for the students’ sake but for the community’s, Miles said.

“Businesses can’t operate if everybody has to stay home and watch their kids.”

More than 100 people from industry, government, businesses and universities contributed to the Washington report, which will be distributed this week to budget committee members at the state Legislature.

Gov. Jay Inslee was briefed on the report, Walsh said.

Fifty years spans many political generations, Yu pointed out.

But if Washington and Oregon begin to incorporate some of the reports’ recommendations into their long-term plans now, the job will eventually get done.

“How do you eat an elephant? A little bit at a time,” he said.

“We need to have a strategy to take care of this elephant.”

Sandi Doughton: 206-464-2491 or

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Sound Seismic7543 15th Avenue NW, Seattle, WA 98117

Mary Ellen and I are both extremely pleased with the work that your crew did.  Please pass on my personal "thank you" to each of them. 

We were pleased with the amount of clean-up that was done at the end of each day. 

Even with your discovery of unforeseen conditions that necessitated additional framing, it was still done within a very reasonable time-frame.  My overall experience with Sound Seismic has been very positive and we will recommend your services to our circle of friends and family.

Again, thank you for a very "enjoyable" experience!

Mark and Mary Ellen Whitesell, Ballard, Seattle



I wish to praise SOUND SEISMIC for the earthquake retrofit they completed on my home. From the estimate to the finished job, Leif and his crew were professional, hard working, pleasant and exceptionally CLEAN. They handled the permit and inspections seamlessly. Office support from Elizabeth was equally professional, reliable and fast. I can't describe everything so I'll just say the whole experience was great.

Kristin Hill, Wallingford, Seattle



Sound Seismic was professional and they came when they said they were going to come. They came early and they called me to ask if it was okay to start the work earlier. They explained everything to me. It seemed like a reasonable price for the work because I had read other people’s descriptions on retrofitting on Angies list. The price seemed right in line with what I was expecting.
Sarah Morken


We recently had Sound Seismic do our earthquake retrofit. I cannot compliment enough the very professional job they did. Leif Jackson, the owner, sat with us for two hours answering questions and explaining how earthquakes work. He was completely above board, not promising more than he could deliver. He left interesting reading material so that we could evaluate and decide for ourselves. The most compelling was from FEMA warning people in the Puget Sound area to do everything they could to protect their homes because of our earthquake risk.

Once we were in contract, Leif sent our information to a structural engineer who drew up the plans. The bid was fair and complete. The crew showed up on the date the job started and completely it quickly. It looks great. Our new pony walls are gorgeous and the bolts and clamps very reassuring. City inspections were completed for the bolting and then for the finished job. This company is certified and high quality. Our house will be sticking around on the foundation. I encourage you to get over gambling about retrofitting and hire these guys. They are great.

Emily Elliott, Queen Anne


The crew kept me informed of their progress and plans all the time.  They told me what their plans were, and delivered every time.  Very satisfying knowing I could count on them doing what they promised - when they promised it!

Martin Muller, Olympic Manor, Seattle



My experience with Sound Seismic was very good. They were upfront about the work that needed to be done, about the cost and about the specific changes that would be required. In general, they had a high level of professionalism. They were on schedule, did a good job and cleaned up afterwards. They actually returned calls, which seems to be rare with contractors. I haven’t had other work of this sort done before. They did a really good job overall. They were very good about scheduling and estimates, and did quality work. They were one of the few providers in the area who would do the work - I thought the price was reasonable. I would use them again in the future.
Karl Bystrom


Sound Seismic was the most professional group of contractors/employees I have ever dealt with. They were knowledgable, dependable, and skilled. The project lead was obviously well trained and knew what he was doing, was able to effectively manage and direct his crew and subcontractors. A quality job. Discovered an area behind my walls were my house was not up to code. Worked well will me to correct the problem and professional and reasonable about the change order.
Andrew Austin, Phinney Ridge


The Sound Seismic crew arrived on time and got started on this structurally engineered and contracted job. It was estimated to take approximately one week to complete this work. The job was completed in 4 days with great professionalism and dedication to the work completed. The work passed a city inspection with no additional work required. The quality of work is excellent with great attention to detail.

Leon Young


Based in Ballard, the 2 man crew of Sound Seismic did a very clean, professional job of installing the earthquake retrofit. I was very happy with quality of the work and the way the crew kept the site clean and organized every day. They stick to a firm 8-hour work day for their employees and offer health benefits, a rarity in the contract world, it would seem. So their bid was not the lowest, however was comparable to a number of other firms, within 5-10%. Very punctual and professional in all coordination and in handling the 2 inspections reqd. by the city. No surprises or additional costs. I would recommend this contractor overall.

Jennifer Dovey, Broadview, Seattle



Sound Seismic did such a thorough job. Looking at their work lets me sleep better at night knowing my house is now very unlikely to shift off its foundations in an earthquake.

P. Kiraly, Madrona, Seattle



We thank you for the very professional work done by all of your people that we have had contact with.  The crew working here were outstanding, and we were charmed by your lead carpenter, Matt. 

Our basement has not been this clean in 70 years (the house is 70 years old)!

Thanks again,

the Pearsons

Bryant neighborhood, Seattle



We had a wonderful experience with Sound Seismic.  After the devastating earthquake in Japan my husband and I were quite worried about our 3 story brick home and decided to retrofit our basement as a way to ease our anxiety and protect our family.  

Sound Seismic's estimate was more reasonable than any of the others we got and we felt very confident knowing that Leif and his team have done many retrofits, including our friend's basement.  Leif was able to explain the process to me, answer my questions, and gave me the estimate within an hour of coming to the house.  

The hardest part of the process was moving our furniture and boxes out of the way to prepare the basement - after that things just moved along smoothly.  I had been expecting huge holes in the walls and dust everywhere but the work was really tidy and not nearly as disruptive as I had feared.  My kids and I were able to stay in the house the whole time, only playing out in the backyard a couple times when the banging was loud.  The baby was even able to take naps in the midst of the demolition!  

Matt was very professional and friendly, he always arrived on time and he communicated well, checking in with us at the end of each day to show us the progress of the work.  He was able to finish the work a half-day sooner than planned and there were no hidden costs or extra changes when the invoice arrived.  

I would highly recommend Sound Seismic to anyone -- they were fantastic!

Rachel Opel, Ballard, Seattle




Thanks for the great work on the house - you've done an outstanding job of prompt, low-impact work - and leaving the job site in excellent shape. Appreciate the attention to detail."


Wayne Dodge, Ravenna, Seattle


"I wanted to follow up and thank you for your good communication, strong planning and flexibility.

Your foreman was great. Very professional, low key, friendly and efficient."


Urs Koenig, Madrona, Seattle

They did an excellent job. The whole experience from start to finish was excellent. When they came out they told us what would need to be done, how it would be done and how much it would cost. We set a date and they came. They did the work exactly as they said they would. There were no surprises. The communication with the contractor throughout the process was excellent. The crewmember that came out to do the work did a fantastic job of cleanup afterwards. It was just excellent from start to finish. Because of the work they did we were able to get earthquake insurance, which we had not been able to qualify for previously. We would use them again and we would recommend them to any of our friends.
George Murphy, Northgate, Seattle

Sound Seismic gave a very competitive bid, clearly explained everything they were going to do, accomodated my schedule, and produced a very high quality outcome.  I highly recommend them.

Gary Johnson, Wallingford, Seattle



Dear Leif,

Your crew did a great job!  It was a pleasure to meet them. And as soon as I met your lead carpenter, I knew that everything would be done 'right.' 

They took extra care at every level: and left everything better than ever.  They were able to remove the siding without cutting it, which is great, too.

I am glad that I got to see how substantial the anchors, fasteners, etc. are - and how robustly the plywood panels are nailed in. ( It was hard for me to tell from the blueprints alone.)

I am very happy with all aspects of the plan and the work, Leif.  


David Rosenbaum, Sand Point, Seattle



All in all, we felt the project went extremely well.  Given the number of earthquakes worldwide of late, we are pleased to have had the work done.  We’d rather not have it tested, but we know we are in as good a position as possible if the ground starts shaking!

Barbara E., Capital Hill, Seattle



I wanted to let you know what a great job that your crew did on our earthquake retrofit.  They were very knowledgeable about the whole process and answered any questions we had without hesitation. Their work was excellent and they finished the job quickly.  I have done my share of remodeling in the past and I can say that they cleaned up after each day’s work more thoroughly than anyone I’ve ever encountered.  They took obvious pride in the retrofit work they did but also in the cleanup. They saw that as an integral part of the Sound Seismic service.  All in all, it was a fast and painless experience.


Thanks for assigning those fine young men to our job.


Paul Gustie, Fremont



Sound Seismic performed an engineered retrofit on our house built in 1928.  I've never had a better experience working with a contractor - thoroughly professional (truly experienced and knowledgeable in their craft), they were also excellent communicators throughout the engagement.  And the cleanup afterwards was amazing.  I would recommend them without reservation!

George Murphy, Northgate, Seattle



I wanted to thank you for the wonderful job you did retrofitting my home in South Seattle. I was aware that it would be a challenge and it proved to offer more problems than we expected. You met them all and did a great job correcting the rot and damage that happened over the years since 1927, when the house was built.


When I arrived home yesterday the basement was clean and organized. It was the first time I did not have to spend hours cleaning up after a contractor. Your lead carpenter and his assistant were a great team. Thanks for all your efforts.



Patrick Murphy, Mount Baker



I can't think of a single way you could improve the service of your company.  Yours is one of the VERY best companies I've worked with on this home.

Jeannie Macri, West Seattle



Sound Seismic completed a earthquake retrofit on our house. Their explanation about what to expect and what we'd get was clear and straightforward; the work was completed as described, as scheduled and exactly on time; clean-up: spotless.


Harriet B., Ballard



"The experience with Sound Seismic was possibly the finest I have had in my dealings with any of my trade contractors. Your crew was knowledgable, well informed, hard working, tidy, as well as a pleasure to have on my job."

Jesse Lee Honor, Project Manager, Northwest Homecrafters



Thank you very much for your excellent work on retrofitting our house.  We appreciated your careful oversight of the project, ongoing contact with the engineering firm, attention to detail, and clean and timely work.  You really rose to the challenges presented by "this old house."

Mike E., Capital Hill, Seattle



Sound Seismic exhibited a great combination of skill, hard work, and professionalism.  You treated our home and our project as though you were doing it on your own house.

Linda and Rick T. Kirkland, WA



Everything looks good. Thanks for the all the work your guys did, very professional.


Stuart Jamieson, Montlake



Sound Seismic did an excellent job of the seismic retrofit on my two-story house, which entailed quite a lot of siding work as I don't have a basement. The workmen were punctual, neat and meticulous. I feel safer because of their work.

Pippa Kiraly., Madrona



Just wanted to send you a note to express how pleased we are with the work your firm recently completed.  You did exactly what you said you would and the quality of the work is first rate.  Also, please tell Matt how much we enjoyed him.  Thanks,

Gary Johnson, Wallingford



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