Earthquake News

Puget Sound Region at Risk of an Earthquake Disaster Similar to Turkey

The tragic events in Turkey and Syria, where twin earthquakes devastated the region, have made three experts raise concerns about the potential for similar disaster striking the Puget Sound region. In an article published in The Seattle Times, Harold Tobin, Jeffrey W. Berman, and Marc Eberhard warn that the Seattle Fault and its neighbors, the Tacoma Fault and the Southern Whidbey Island Fault, have the potential to produce a magnitude 7 or greater earthquake, causing vast destruction to homes, bridges, and even naval bases.

The experts highlight the fact that many buildings in the region were built before current understanding of seismicity and modern structural engineering practice, including more than a thousand unreinforced masonry buildings made of brick or stone and mortar without any steel reinforcing, thousands of non-ductile concrete buildings and bridges constructed before 1980, and many buildings designed with open ground floors, known as “soft story”. These structures pose a significant risk of partial or complete collapse in the face of seismic shaking and may cause loss of life in an earthquake.

While Washington state has improved seismic safety measures in recent decades through improved building codes, the experts warn that older buildings have not been brought up to the same standard. Thus, it is entirely realistic that a major earthquake in the Puget Sound region could cause thousands of deaths and injuries and many billions of dollars in property loss.

The experts urge authorities to take the necessary steps to ensure that the buildings in the region are earthquake safe. They argue that it is essential to identify the number of non-ductile concrete buildings and those designed with “soft story” and to initiate the process of retrofitting them to ensure safety in the event of an earthquake. The region must learn from Turkey’s tragedy and not be complacent about the risk of a devastating urban earthquake.

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