Even though it wasn’t the “big one,” last year’s Nisqually earthquake caused damage to nearly 300,000 residences or almost one out of every four households in the Puget Sound area, according to a new University of Washington study. The study, funded by the National Science Foundation, shows that the Feb. 28, 2001, quake caused an estimated $1.5 billion in damages to households in the region.
The findings also indicate that the vast majority of residents have made little effort to change their earthquake preparedness following the temblor that registered magnitude 6.8.
The study is the first to focus strictly on household damages from the earthquake. Previous estimates of damage, ranging from $2 billion to $3.9 billion, combined loses to public, business and household property.
Results of the study were reported over the weekend at the North American Regional Science Meetings in San Juan, Puerto Rico, by UW geography professor William Beyers, who studies economic geography. Co-investigator of the study is Stephanie Chang, a UW research assistant professor of geography who looks at the impacts of natural disasters.
The study was based on 1,200 telephone interviews, with 400 interviews conducted in each of three ground motion zones. Losses, the study showed, were not always proportional to levels of ground motion — high, medium and low — created by the earthquake across the Puget Sound region.
While the percentage of households reporting losses was directly proportional to ground motion, average damages were almost identical in the high and medium ground motion zones. Average losses in the high ground motion zone were $1,350, while they were $1,308 in the medium ground motion zone. Household damages in the low ground motion zone averaged $622.
However, in absolute dollars, damage was greatest in the medium ground motion zone where $913 million of the damage occurred. That’s because nearly 60 percent of Puget Sound households are located in these areas, according to Beyers.
The researchers also found that:
Prior to the Nisqually quake less than half the households had taken steps to prepare for an earthquake such as obtaining first-aid training, making emergency plans and securing items in the house. Even after the quake Beyers and Chang found that about four out of five households did not change their earthquake preparedness.
“The quake wasn’t a big enough disaster to scare most people into doing something to mitigate future damage,” said Beyers. “A lot of people said, ‘We did fine in the earthquake so we don’t need to change the way we did things.’ The bigger the loss, the more apt people were to do something, but relatively few people were really hit hard.” Public agencies wishing to promote earthquake preparedness and damage reduction need to reach the public through a wide variety of media, Beyers said, because people obtained information from an enormous variety of sources. Newspapers and television news programs were the most common primary sources, but were only cited by 22 and 20 percent, respectively. Other sources mentioned included friends and relatives; materials distributed by employers, Red Cross and the fire department; previous earthquake experience in California; radio; the Internet; and pamphlets in the mail.
For more information, contact Beyers at (206) 543-5871 or email@example.com or Chang at (206) 616-9018 or firstname.lastname@example.org