Home Community Washington State Prepares in Wake of Noto Earthquake

Washington State Prepares in Wake of Noto Earthquake

Washington State Prepares in Wake of Noto Earthquake

By Barbara Mizoguchi
NAP Editor

On March 26, Japan-America Society of the State of Washington featured Noto Earthquake: Implications for Natural Hazards Preparation in Washington State seminar and panel discussion. Held at Seattle University Pigott Auditorium, it began with Deputy Consul General of Japan in Seattle Kazuo Sumi explaining his own direct experience while in Japan with his family during the Noto earthquake. It provided a deep understanding of how powerful the earthquake affected people even beyond Noto. Robert Ezelle, Director of Washington State Emergency Management Division briefly mentioned how the Noto earthquake is on the same latitude as the Pacific Northwest. Currently, there is an agreement between Washington State and Japan to collaborate on earthquake preparedness. Also, the state legislature is developing a state-wide reliance team to study the current buildings and how to make them stronger.

Left to right: Todd Mason, Weyerhaeuser; Kanna Izushi, JASSW Program
Coordinator; and Michiko Yoshino, JASSW Communications Manager talking at the JASSW registration table at Seattle University Pigott Auditorium.

During a livestream with Naoshi Hirata, the Professor Emeritus at the University of Tokyo explained the Noto area in detail. Noto Hamto (peninsular) is located on the western side of Japan in the middle of the country. Wajima City, one of Noto’s cities, is located on the hamto and is known for its lacquerware called Wajima-nuri.

Millions of years ago, the surface of Japan moved apart from the mainland located from the west.The tectonic plate called the Pacific Plate is located underneath the Pacific Ocean and considered the largest on earth. The basalt rockery moves west toward Japan as it compresses, whereas, the Juan de Fuca Plate, also located underneath the Pacific Ocean, moves east toward the United States.

On January 1, 2024, the Noto earthquake measured 7.6 on the Richter Scale compared to 7.9 in San Francisco of 1906. The earthquake could be felt as far away as Sado Island, 300 kilometers (186 miles) away to the north of Japan. After the earthquake, a tsunami came quickly and fast, hitting Toyama City, Japan at 2.3 meters (eight feet) high and the Akasaki Factory at 4.2 meters (13.7 feet) high. The Kaiso Fishery Port lost four meters (13.1 feet) in water depth. The compression moved from northwest to southeast causing a westward movement of the fault at 150 kilometers (93.2 miles) long in 40 seconds.

In Niigata and Toyama, half the houses were destroyed and 244 people died. Today, there are about 9,000 temporary houses and only 1,000 houses built thus far.

In 2007, there was a 6.9 earthquake west of Noto Hamto in the Sea of Japan and 93 kilometers (57.7 miles) away from Hokkaido, it was 7.8. In Niigata, 164 kilometers (101.9 miles) away by sea, it measured 7.5. The Noto earthquake affected large areas with sea areas becoming land masses. After shocks are still being felt today.

Brian Atwater, Affiliate Professor at the University of Washington, explained that as early as the 1700s, the Cascadia Subduction Zone (a 700-mile fault from British Columbia to northern California along the coastline) began being recorded. However, it was not until the 1990s that its history was reviewed more closely. It was noticed that a new marine terrace (a flat surface of soil from marine origin bounded by layers over time) was created. In 900-930 CE, the fault line moved east to west across the Puget Sound. In 1867, at the current West Point Lighthouse in Discovery Park in Seattle, Washington, a sewage plant was being built; but there was an uplift in the terrace. Plants that used to be in salt marshes were still standing upright, green, and perfectly preserved.

Other examples in marine terraces were charcoal fried stones from human cooking, bone mammals from 2,500 years ago, and trees and limbs from 9250-923 CE. “Drowned landscapes are the victims of great earthquakes (magnitudes 8+) that periodically lower the coast into the sea.”

The speaker, Sandi Doughton from Seattle Times
Sandi Doughton who is a writer and editor for Pacific Northwest Magazine at The Seattle Times spoke about her collaboration with writer Daniel Gilbert. They researched and wrote about Washington State’s lack of earthquake priority. However, she admitted that the state Emergency Management Department is under funded and under staffed. Also, even though Washington State does not get many earthquakes, the state Department of Natural Resources is chipping away at its own emergency program. There are 100 non-reinforced buildings in Seattle. Four hundred buildings in the state have been completed so far; however, it is not known how many buildings still need to be retro fitted. It will take 30 years to retrofit the entire region. Across Washington State, 80-85 emergency facilities are needed. Even roads and bridges will require retrofitting as lifeline routes that can quickly re-open for supply runs. In addition, utilities such as water and sewer are vulnerable. Although emergency practices are optional in the state, it will someday become mandatory.

Doughton is most worried about schools. One third of children live in earthquake zones and go to schools that are also in the zone. The state legislature performed a school seismic safety program in 2020. It resulted in $100 million to upgrade all schools. So far, three schools are completed with 12 more to be retro fitted. However, Ocosta School District located in Westport, Washington did not wait. Families taxed themselves to build the first tsunami structure in Washington State. Its gymnasium will now tolerate tsunamis not only for school children but for the entire area. Even the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) helped Native Americans build facilities in outline areas of reservations so that they can serve beyond their territories.

The speakers left to right (Sophia Lopez from Sesttle Office of Emergency Management, Sandi Doughton from Seattle Times, Naoshi Hirata on the screen from University of Tokyo and Brian Atwater from University of Washington)

Sophia Lopez is a Community Engagement Manager at the City of Seattle Office of Emergency Management. She mentioned not “if” but “when” there will be an earthquake and tsunami in this area.

The city looks at best practices with Japan. Seattle is underneath a rock fault; if it moves four and a half to five seconds underneath our feet, there will be a tsunami. Today, there is an app (a self-contained software for mobile or desktop devices to perform specific tasks) that provides more information about the earthquake and tsunami.

The city also noticed there needs to be hands-on skills in planning for an emergency, emergency planning support, information in different languages, and adaptability for all communities. Hopefully, we all know that when there is an earthquake to “drop, cover, and hold onto a table”. If one is outside, stay outside. Soon there will be blue signs posted outside about tsunamis throughout Seattle. In the meantime, prepare an immediate and long-term plan. Information from the city can be found for outreach and education. Get a ham radio and license and watch out for your neighbors including local organizations like the Parent/Teacher Association (PTA) and/or churches.

During the “Question and Answer” period of the seminar, it was mentioned that the City of Seattle provides free classes. In Japan, residents learn about emergency management at a young age in school and then kids know how to respond at home. Washington State still needs to build a program into its schools. Also, hands-on training is the most difficult to start in the state. American engineering needs to adopt Japanese engineering plans, i.e., some buildings are isolated on rollers so they can move during an earthquake. Since 1981, Japan has revised its building codes several times. Today, 81 percent of Japan’s building and homes are earthquake-proof. Before the Noto earthquake, only half its buildings were under code. It is more difficult to prepare in Japan’s countryside and with the elderly. Plus, the young people are declining in those areas.

As the seminar was ending, a reception was provided with appetizers and beverages, and a chance to network with the speakers and other attendees.

Overall, the seminar was quite informative, interesting, and educational. It opened one’s eyes and awareness to perhaps prepare individually at home and work now.