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Eastside Earthquakes Get Attention At Conference In Yakima

You probably remember the Nisqually Earthquake of 2001 that hit Seattle. But have you heard of the 1.9 earthquake that hit last week just west of Yakima?

Talk of earthquakes big and small was the focus of a conference Monday in Eastern Washington. Correspondent Anna King reports from Yakima on the latest on Northwest earthquake science.

When it comes to earthquakes, Seattle and Portland get most of the attention. But come to find out that earthquakes are much easier to study on the east side of the state.

That’s because there are fewer trees and fault lines are more exposed. Also, Eastern Washington wasn’t covered with glaciers as recently as Western Washington where geologic evidence has been scraped away by ice flows.

Craig Weaver is a Seattle based scientist with U.S. Geological Survey. He says that research gathered in Eastern Washington can be applied to the West. That means both sides of the state can better prepare for earthquakes.

Craig Weaver: "That’s the whole role of this is to understand the hazard well enough so we are able to build that into our structures and our freeways and our infrastructure going forward."

But telling people to prepare for earthquakes in Eastern Washington sometimes falls on deaf ears. That’s because the last major quake in the area was in 1936.

Craig Weaver: "When you don’t have that constant reminder people tend to well it’s not my problem. As we saw this morning it’s very misleading to base your hazards solely on the short history, because geologic time is much, much longer."

But some people are paying attention, like John Scheer. It’s his job to prepare people for the next big quake in Franklin County. He says people need to have enough food to last three days and they need to know how to take care of their home after the big one hits.

John Scheer: "Would you use power, do you know how to turn off your utilities. Do you know where your gas is turned off, your electrical? The ground is going to shake and it could do damage to your home."

But what people really want to know is when an earthquake is going to hit. Scientists at the conference say they are working on that problem.

One proposed program would install warning sirens like those in Japan. The sirens would go off when sensors installed in key locations throughout the region first detect movement.