Concerned about all the talk about the Cascadia Earthquake Zone, I’ve been investigating disaster preparation for my co-op building, with the thought of also sharing it with you readers. Unexpectedly, on Nov. 8, it was our nation’s civic fissures that cracked open, sending tremors likely to shake our world far into the future. 

Yet to my surprise, a lot of the ideas circulating sound similar, whether they address seismic or political hazards. These recommendations can be summarized as: Get the facts, make a plan and help each other.

Get the Facts

In recent weeks the dangers of fake news, foreign hackers, anti-science ideologues and conspiracy nuts has been recognized, if not solved. Media and internet companies say they are working to weed out or at least label fake stories, and readers formerly happy to click on news sites for free are subscribing to outposts of honest investigative journalism like the Seattle Times, Washington Post and NPR. Contributions to nonprofits defending civil liberties, climate science or the environment seem to be growing.

As with the climate debate, the Cascadia Subduction Zone can hurt you whether you believe in it or not, so knowledge can only help. Our best source here is Seattle’s Office of Emergency Man-agement. The OEM has a wealth of material online at, which also posts a referral list of engineers and contractors with seismic experience.

I attended one of the free classes on disaster preparation and home earthquake retrofitting at the Phinney Ridge Community Center, sponsored by the OEM and taught by contractors Tony Holder and Roger Faris.

They cut through complacency about earthquakes by scrolling through photos of collapsed brick buildings from Christchurch, New Zealand. But Californians and the Japanese have experienced great success surviving quakes with properly reinforced structures.

Holder praised the efforts of the city’s Department Construction & Inspections, whose “coaching desk” helps homeowners navigate the inspection and permit process for earthquake retrofitting (on the 20th floor of the municipal tower at 700 Fifth Avenue, 206-684-8850.) Handy homeowners brave enough to install their own anchor bolts can borrow drills and other tools from the Capitol Hill Tool Library here on Crawford Place ( But Holder urged do-it-yourselfers to address ventilation, given the many kinds of dust, chemicals and nasty bugs lurking in our crawlspaces.

Make a Plan

“People will be on their own,” Holder stressed. “You want to make sure you and your family have what you need.”  

Even a 6.0 quake, well short of the feared “Big One,” could cut or damage roads, transit, hospitals, ATMs, electrical power, water and other services we take for granted. So the OEM recommends storing nonperishable food, cash and medication for at least seven to 10 days, and about a gallon per day per person of water. Holder also praised the multiple benefits of trash bags, especially if sewers shut down (ugh).

Also plan ahead for family communications, both a rendezvous location and an out-of-town contact. This was the experience my wife and I had on our way to work on 9-11, when the planes struck the Twin Towers. Local cellphone service was nearly useless, but coworkers and relatives in other states became our lifelines. 

This is sound advice as well for activists protesting away from home — places to meet, people to call (including legal help), and toting practical stuff like IDs, water, snacks and phone chargers. 

Help Each Other

When Hurricane Wilma struck our Florida condo in 2005, within minutes neighbors were checking on each other, sweeping up broken glass and covering windows with plywood for elderly residents. A Cuban couple quickly had coffee on and DVDs playing for the kids because they’d had the foresight to buy a generator.

The OEM likewise warns that in an emergency “the people who live around you will likely be the first ones to help you,” and urges communities to organize in advance through its “Seattle Neighborhoods Actively Prepare” program (SNAP).

As much as we might wish that we walk on firm ground and not on a thin crust that could crack at any time, or that the American institutions that sustain and protect us are permanent and indivisible, such is not true in either case. But I am hopeful that communities are standing up to defend not only their own communities or professions, but others under assault.

The next four years will likely not be easy or comfortable, but they could leave us all stronger, more engaged and more united than we dare hope right now.

Steven Beck, a New York transplant since 2015, is a retired city planner and occasional English teacher. “Seattle-ized” is his column about adjusting to life here.