Compass: We're not ready for the big one

By DON REARDENDecember 5, 2012 

From here on this crisp clear night in Bear Valley, far up on the mountain from the twinkling lights of Anchorage, I am trying not to imagine what I could be seeing -- nothing but dark, perhaps a few structure fires -- had the recent quake 5.9 quake been anything but a little hiccup compared to the devastation wrought by the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake.

We would be sitting around a warm wood stove, our small living-room lit only by the flicker from the fire. The emergency radio would be on, though I wonder who or what would be transmitting if the power grid sustained damage. It's already near zero outside, and it would be a long night of tending the fire to keep the pipes from freezing, if they weren't already broken.

We would be concerned for our friends and family in town, who have only natural gas or electricity to heat their homes, and for the safety of those coastal residents. I would be calculating food stores and in all honestly probably preparing for an early morning, and completely illegal, moose hunt.

But then as I write this, I realize that might not be true, as when this quake struck I was home alone with my 18 month old son, so I wouldn't leave to hunt, not because I couldn't take him hunting, but because we'd be stuck here, waiting and hoping Annette would return home. See that's the thing about Anchorage, our city is so spread out, so much of our infrastructure built on unstable ground. We could only hope she'd be able to walk the thirteen miles up the mountain to our house, as the roads would be too damaged to drive.

It would no doubt be a long and scary night for my son and I, and for you too if you live here, and you know what is scarier? It wouldn't be just one night. Anchorage is built upon a tidal mud flat, we have one road in and out of town, and an airport built right beside the ever interesting Earthquake Park. If the quake was as big as the one in '64, and scientists say we will have one again, you can count on the city's transportation infrastructure being crippled. Repairs from the last quake took months to years to fix, and just look at the poor folks still suffering from Sandy if you don't think we would be waiting more than a day or two.

What is my point?

Simple.

We Alaskans pride ourselves on how big stuff is here, big bears, big moose, big mountains, and this big earthquake. The thing is that Alaskans might brag about our history, but we don't seem to learn anything from it. I'm talking about myself here, too. We aren't ready for the big one. Individually or collectively.

And I'm not just talking about Anchorage people here either, if you live in the Bush or the Interior and rely on Anchorage for your food and fuel, well, then I'm also talking to you, too. Individually we need to all have supplies and food stores, on hand, not to mention some sort of family plan (as the family cell phone plan probably won't be working) of how and where to meet up. Collectively we need to have plans at work and for our communities. It wouldn't hurt to run the occasional drill, but then follow-up with action plans and discussion.

We'll need warm shelters and food distribution centers.

We'll need leaders.

We'll need to figure out how to come together for warmth and comfort, just like they did in '64. In fact, there are many old timers still around; we could start by sitting down around the woodstove and listening to their stories, perhaps learn a lesson or two from them. It's going to take that and more.


Don Rearden is the author of the novel "Raven's Gift." He teaches at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

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