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Earthquake was a reminder to remain vigilant

  • Author: Torrence Saxe
    | Opinion
  • Updated: November 30, 2019
  • Published November 30, 2019

Red emergency "crash" phones sit in front of a map of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in the Base Ops building on Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. During Friday's magnitude 7.0 earthquake, Staff Sgt. Samantha Glenny was using both phones at once to communicate with emergency response teams across the base.\ (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Nov. 30, 2018, Cook Inlet earthquake. Most of us recall exactly where we were at 8:29 a.m. on that day. Our children were either at school or on their way there; businesses and offices were opening. Each of us approached the day as if it would be just like the one previous. I was in the midst of providing a briefing in an airfield hangar on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson when the shaking began. As I realized this was unlike the many small temblors I’ve experienced in 15 years of living here, and that there was nothing to shelter beneath, I ensured we exited the building with a sense of purpose.

The 7.1 magnitude earthquake that held us in its grasp for less than a minute was a frightening display of the powerful tectonic forces that shape our lives as Alaska residents, but it’s easy to forget that it was exponentially less powerful than the Good Friday Earthquake of 1964. Survivors reported minutes of shaking during that quake, compared to the seconds we experienced a year ago today. Subsidence, liquefaction and tsunamis killed 131 Alaskans in 1964, while thankfully, no one died last year. The Port of Alaska survived the Nov. 30 quake, if narrowly, ensuring our flow of goods was not interrupted. Most roads remained viable, which ensured emergency services could get where they needed to go. Where the earthquake interrupted power, it was rapidly restored. The trans-Alaska oil pipeline, which didn’t exist in 1964, was shut down last year for a short period of precautionary inspection, but the oil soon began flowing once again.

We dodged a bullet, fellow Alaskans, but we should not for a moment believe that will always be the case. Last year’s earthquake caused an estimated $130 million in damages, but it remains a growing estimate. Should we see a repeat of 1964, it would be much worse, both in terms of infrastructure and our most precious resource of all: human life. And help, in any form, may be a long time in coming. The best thing we can do now is focus on our own readiness so we are prepared when a natural disaster occurs.

What happened last year was a firm reminder to me that we must remain vigilant and prepared for a no-notice natural disaster. It is one of my top priorities to ensure the Alaska National Guard anticipates and prepares for Alaska’s worst day. Through one initiative, we are evaluating the feasibility of establishing operational hubs in rural Alaska that would enable more efficient military responses to disasters in rural communities. In my civilian role as a Commissioner, which includes oversight of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, I’ve ensured they continue their outstanding track record of responding to natural disasters and state emergencies, and facilitating thorough and timely recovery for Alaskans. But most of all, we’ve emphasized that everyone work together as much as possible, for when the day comes, it will be our ability to work together on your behalf that will make all the difference.

On the first anniversary of the 2018 Cook Inlet earthquake, I ask each of you — from individual citizens, to public and private organizations — to take a moment and think about what that day was like for you. Consider what we learned that we may implement before the next big earthquake strikes. “Team Alaska” is our mantra. Let’s be ready together.

Maj. Gen. Torrence Saxe is the adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard and commissioner for the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

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