Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the Good Friday earthquake, which devastated many communities in Alaska, including those on the Kenai Peninsula. The anniversary has emergency planners asking the question, “Are we ready for the next ‘big one?’”
Dan Nelson is Program Coordinator for the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Office of Emergency Management. He says the possibility of an big earthquake seems to be an "abstract" concept for most Alaskans.
"I think most folks do understand and acknowledge (the danger)" he says. "But at the same time, it's really hard to put that into practice and to recognize what that really means ... for different communities."
Nelson says his office has been using the upcoming anniversary of the Good Friday quake as a tool to help educate Alaskans on what they can do to be better prepared for a big earthquake.
He says that in some ways, we are more prepared. The science behind understanding and predicting earthquakes has greatly improved since 1964, for instance. But in other ways – such as our increased population and our dependence on infrastructure and technology – we are maybe less prepared.
Ervin Petty is Tsunami Program Manager for the State of Alaska. Like Nelson, he spends a lot of his time traveling around, trying to educate Alaskans on how to be better prepared for a disaster.
Petty says that because of the expected damage to communications infrastructure in the event of a big earthquake, many of the preparedness solutions are decidedly low-tech. He says that HAM radio operators were the unsung heroes of the ’64 quake, acting as Alaska’s primary communication link to the outside world. He says that in the event of another quake of that size, that could very well happen again.
"I would say the first thing to do is come up with a good family plan," says Petty.
Petty says a good plan covers things like how to pick up children from school, how to communicate with family members who work out of town and the preparation of a seven-day survival kit.
According to the state’s preparedness website – ready.alaska.gov – a good survival kit contains things like flashlights, first aid supplies, blankets and a radio. At least a one-week supply of food and water is important, as well.
Once your family is secure, Petty says it’s going to be important for Alaskans to get out and assist their neighbors.