Preparing for the Pacific Northwest Earthquake and Its Aftermath

Preparing for the Pacific Northwest Earthquake and Its Aftermath

If an earthquake breaks the ground in the Pacific Northwest, these groundbreaking products can help us respond to—or even avoid—the inevitable disaster predicted by the New Yorker

Teo Armus
  • 17 july 2015

An article by Kathryn Schulz in this week’s issue of the New Yorker, titled “The Really Big One,” predicts that an 8.0 earthquake and tsunami will devastate the Pacific Northwest—and that the region is completely unprepared to respond to such a massive disaster.

Although residents of Washington and Oregon may not be aware of the full risks posed by the Cascadia subduction zone under them (a reality that Schulz’s article is undoubtedly changing), some agencies around the world are working on products and services that ensures these residents are prepared—whether the disaster strikes tomorrow or next century.

While the rest of the Internet was freaking out over Schulz’s piece and making vows to never visit Seattle, PSFK reached out to a few of these innovators to see what they had to say about preventing—and responding to—”the really big one” when it hits the Cascadian Subduction Zone.

Civic Ninjas


Civic Ninjas founder Scott Phillips emphasizes the impact a Cascadia earthquake will have on the region: Power could be out for up to six months and water for up to three years, while up to 1 million people will be displaced from their homes.

“The sheer magnitude of the disaster will overwhelm traditional shelter disaster response organizations and we as individuals, neighborhoods and communities will need to be able to help ourselves,” he says. “It is time for America to rethink our approach to disasters and embrace new and innovative approaches to disaster response.”

Civic Ninjas, a maker and hacker community, is working to do just that: Its Citizen Power Brigade charges mobile devices in emergency situations with hybrid electric cars, using fuel efficiently and empowering everyday individuals to serve as “a new type of first responder.”

Additionally, members of the brigade are “helping start conversations everywhere about the role all of us need to be playing when the really big one hits,” Phillips says. They participated in two White House updates on disaster preparedness and are embarking on a national road tour this summer.


For Matthew Grasser, the CEO of LDLN, “The Really Big One” is a story about technology and communication in the face of a changing global ecosystem. It’s appropriate, then, that his company is working to improve the flow of information—from the environment to scientists, when we’re anticipating a disaster, and between people in low-connectivity areas after this disaster strikes.

“By enhancing these communication channels with LDLN’s technology, we create more efficient feedback loop and cut wasted time from the equation,” Grasser says. “Ultimately, every minute gained in the early detection and communication of a disaster’s onset directly translates to an extra minute to prepare or evacuate a population, which will prove critical as these types of scenarios grow in both frequency and magnitude.”

LDLN’s technology provides a standalone platform and mobile apps for securely communicating data—without any reliance on the Internet or centralized power grids. Recently, Grasser and his team used this technology in “Evergreen Tremor,” a simulation run by the Washington Area National Guard that tests the region’s ability to respond to a catastrophic Cascadia earthquake and tsunami.

As for helping scientists collect data, LDLN’s networked sensors have been mounted at a mudslide site near Oso, Washington to gather information that can signify an oncoming disaster.



No matter how far in advance it is predicted, an earthquake will always catch you off guard,” says Eisuke Tachikawa, CEO of NOSIGNER, a Japanese design firm that specializes in disaster prevention and recovery. “Your decision to prepare or not prepare for an earthquake will greatly impact whether you survive or perish.”

NOSIGNER worked with survivors of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake to design THE SECOND AID, a disaster response kit he suggests using as a reference to put together a home survival kit.

Tachikawa tells PSFK that he hopes some of the lessons learned in Japan will dramatically increase survival rates in the United States. Of these lessons, he emphasizes the importance of fastening furniture to the wall, and determining a contingency plan with family to reach higher ground during tsunamis.

“The survivors in Tohoku have taught us that when an earthquake hits and has left a hopeless situation, people have the power to rise again,” he says. “Even if an earthquake strikes and you feel you have lost everything, do not give up or lose hope. There will come a day where you will overcome the tragedy.”

Dr. Pierfrancesco Cacciola, University of Brighton


Dr. Pierfrancesco Cacciola, professor and assistant head at the University of Brighton’s School of Environment & Technology, believes the key to improved disaster response lies in government.

He calls on local government agencies in the Pacific Northwest to inspect the most vulnerable buildings and infrastructure and then implement strengthening techniques and control devices in order to reduce the chance of collapse.

“If it is possible to predict such disaster with a significant level of probability ‘do nothing’ is not an option,” Cacciola says.

If implementing these innovations would be too expensive or the buildings must be preserved, the solution, he says, lies in an emerging technology known as the Vibrating Barrier. ViBa, as this soil device is known for short, absorbs the shock of an earthquake on multiple buildings energy for while buried in the soil—thus making building protection a collective effort.

Cracked road via Shutterstock
+Cascadian Subduction Zone
+Civic Ninjas

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