King County leaders reflect on Nisqually earthquake
March 1, 2011
Leaders said King County has undertaken projects designed to protect life and property in the 10 years since the Nisqually earthquake.
The magnitude-6.8 tremor struck the region at 10:54 a.m. Feb. 28, 2001.
“I was a state senator serving in Olympia when the Nisqually quake struck, and it sounded like the Capitol building dome was going to collapse on top of us,” County Executive Dow Constantine recalled in a statement. “Particularly after that experience, I take emergency preparation very seriously. I am pleased to see the progress we have made in the past decade to make us better able to withstand the next substantial earthquake in our region.”
The earthquake cracked the Capitol dome and caused widespread damage across the Puget Sound region, injured hundreds of people and left billions of dollars in property damage.
“As many residents may recall, the King County Courthouse was one of the hardest-hit buildings in the quake,” county Facilities Management Director Kathy Brown said. “Inspectors found cracked plaster, broken windows and failed clay tile walls. Fortunately, though, the primary structure escaped damage.”
In the aftermath, the county acted quickly to retrofit the courthouse to current seismic standards. The improvements included pouring a new foundation and shear walls, adding shock absorbers and installing carbon fiber reinforcing wrap on support columns. The seismic retrofit, plus safety improvements to the building, cost $105 million. Crews completed the project on time and under budget.
“We couldn’t shut the courthouse down for the retrofit, so we had to do the work with the building still occupied,” Brown said. “It was sort of like doing an overhaul on your car while driving down the highway.”
King County International Airport at Boeing Field also suffered damage, including cracks in the main runway. The county embarked on significant repairs to the runways, storm drains and taxiways. Crews also carried out a seismic upgrade to the air traffic control tower.
“Because Boeing Field literally sits on top of the former Duwamish riverbed, and the Nisqually earthquake severely damaged many areas of the airport, including the main runway, where engineers used radar and seismic detection techniques to map some 2,000 feet of surface cracks after the earthquake hit,” Deputy Airport Director Mike Colmant said.
The county used dollars from the airport reserve fund, earthquake insurance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Aviation Administration and the state to cover the $4.4 million in repairs and seismic upgrades.
The temblor 10 years ago also tested disaster-response plans and prompted changes.
The county Office of Emergency Management has conducted full-scale earthquake exercises in recent years, including the Sound Shake 2010 drill.
Issaquah and more than 25 public and private partners from across the county participated in the exercise last fall. The drill led to the creation of the Sound Shake Earthquake Preparedness Guide. The guide is to be distributed to local businesses soon.
“We now have a state-of-the-art emergency operations center that we did not have in 2001,” county Emergency Management Director Hillman Mitchell said.
Following the Nisqually earthquake, the county relocated the emergency operations center that was in a building near Boeing Field between the runway, a rail corridor and near Interstate 5. The updated facility sits atop a ridge of solid bedrock in Renton, and features 800 MHz radio communications to almost all parts of King County to facilitate communication during emergencies.
“Residents can sleep well at night knowing that we are up late planning for all possibilities for disasters, and getting our region ready,” Mitchell said.