'Quake Cottage' Highlights Preparedness Conference

     A recent conference in Homer was focused on dealing with potential disasters. Volcanic eruptions, landslides, earthquakes and tsunamis are just a few disasters residents of the Kenai Peninsula could expect. And scientists and emergency managers are urging people to be ready.

     Alaska has little earthquakes all the time. Just check the Alaska Earthquake Information Center website and you’ll see a pretty long list. The majority of them barely crack the 2.5 magnitude range, but Cindi Preller with the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center said a big one could happen in the near future.

     “In the 60s we had a whole bunch of great quakes. And these quakes basically started the field of seismology and they helped establish two warning centers for the United States. And then it was quiet for 40 years. And then in 2004, we had the great Indonesian event on Boxing Day. Since then it has just been nuts,” she said.

     She said her job as a geologist means she spends her days poring over data and looking for patterns. Preller said all the information suggests there could be another great earthquake. For those of us who weren’t around during the 9.2 magnitude 1964 earthquake, it might be hard to wrap our heads around what a shaker like that feels like. So the state of Alaska has these Quake Cottages to help you out. I hopped in that Friday afternoon.

     Within the first five seconds my headphones flew off my head and I slipped a bit in the seat. Everything was strapped down in there except for Winston, the stuffed-animal stunt dog. He hit the ground about halfway through.

     The experience lasted 30 seconds and was at a magnitude of 7.1. The 1964 earthquake lasted five minutes. And Bridget Bashue with the Alaska Emergency Management Agency said that quake was a lot more powerful than the pretend one I felt.

     “People think ‘Oh, I’m gonna run over here and I’m gonna do this.’ Well, you can’t. You can’t stand up in there. In the simulator even, you have to hold on,” she said.

     Bashue said being prepared is important. She said to get down and cover yourself. And also make sure to have enough food, water and any necessary medications for an extended period of time.

     “And it’s not that you have to go out and buy special food for this kit. At home I have a big… rubber trash can. And it’s food I normally use. I just cycle through it. If you have pets, you need to have dog food or cat food. And you need to have water. A lot of times the water lines break,” she said.

     One of the concerns in this region is an earthquake potentially creating a tsunami. The Tsunami Warning Center’s Preller had some good news on that front.

     “Part of the reason that Homer is good is because Cook Inlet shallows up. And Cook Inlet is just too shallow to support a tsunami,” she said.

     But keep in mind the Kenai Peninsula is a neighbor to several volcanoes, Redoubt and Augustine in particular. Michelle Coombs with the Alaska Volcano Observatory says Augustine can cause problems for Homer when it blows again because it’s only 70 miles away. Volcanic ash is a major hazard and landslides are possible, which could lead to a tsunami wave. Though, Coombs said that issue in particular is up for debate among the scientific community.

     “In 1883, there were eyewitnesses who saw a six meter wave in English Bay. And, at the time, this occurred at low tide… so the wave was actually not very high. Little damage and no fatalities occurred,” she said.

     Coombs said if a similar wave had happened at high tide, there would definitely be damage. 

     But the consistent theme throughout the afternoon was “how do we get people to take this stuff seriously?” Preller said it’s difficult to prepare people for an upcoming disaster when they haven’t experienced one in the past. She suggested instilling preparedness in people when they’re young.

     “The littler the kid, the more sincere they take you. Little kids believe you. They react. So as educators, what we need to do, is teach the little kids. They’ll teach the adults,” she said.

     There is a statewide initiative called the Alaska Shakeout that is attempting to prepare school kids. It’s scheduled for Oct. 17 at 10:17 a.m. But Preller said she’d like to see more drills and more people participating.