February 28, 2021

Sleepless in Seattle.

I didn’t sleep very well last night. Maybe it was the full moon. UW researchers have shown that the full moon can make it take longer to fall asleep and stay asleep. So maybe it wasn’t due to worrying about the pandemic after all, despite today being the one year anniversary of the first death from COVID-19 in the US, which occurred here in the Seattle area.

Or maybe I am remembering and worrying a little bit about the Nisqually earthquake that occurred 20 years ago today. It was a 6.8 quake and shook us all pretty hard. I was at work at my old clinic and we did all the wrong things. No “drop, cover, and hold on” for us. We ran out the back of the building into the alley. All around we could hear chimneys falling from the houses around us. Then I watched as a wave of the earth moved, coming toward me. I felt the earth move up and down like a wake from a speed boat on the lake, lifting my raft up and down. Truly alarming to feel the earth as a fluid, no longer solid. Any rumbling we felt for months afterward startled us. I went home to assess the damage to my 1890’s Victorian and check on my old hound dog. She was freaked. She had been sleeping on the back porch and I think was hit by the porch swing. She wouldn’t sleep on the porch again for months- she would go sleep by the fence instead, as far away from the porch as she could get. She would go out the back door and leap off the porch as fast as she could. Inside, a few things fell over and were damaged, plaster was cracked and chipped in a few places. The higher up in the house you went, more cracking and things falling over was visible. But it seemed no major damage, until I saw the chimney. It had shifted and was cracked and torqued, still intact; but one large aftershock could have caused it to fall. FEMA came to the rescue. This was early 2001 when FEMA still worked. They gave me a grant to use for repairs. Others I knew with damage only got loans, so I felt lucky. I think I got the grant because of the danger from the chimney if it fell. I put the money to good use and repaired the chimney and hired friends to repair and paint the interior, our tax dollars at work.

And today we know more about fault lines and the risk of quakes in this part of the Pacific Northwest. The news isn’t good. Eventually the big Cascade Subduction Zone will shift, promising “the really big one”. That is enough to make one lose sleep. We are as prepared as can be with plans and supplies and are grateful we live in a neighborhood with an active community center with disaster plans. This is our Salish Sea version of flooding, hurricanes, tornadoes, or wildfire that many of you live with. We don’t know when, but eventually an earthquake will occur.

I can only hope we do as well with our response to an earthquake as we have done with a pandemic. Last year at this time, our community and state had a quick response to the unseen threat that was causing citizens to become ill and die from a novel coronavirus. We flattened the curve and consequently have done amazingly well with our efforts. Our health departments, mayors, governor, health care system, and citizens should be congratulated. We will pass 5000 deaths due to COVID-19 in Washington State this week, but our overall rate deaths is only 64.7 per 100,000 thousand residents, only behind Hawaii, Alaska, Oregon, Utah, Maine, and Vermont. We are the second best metropolitan area, only behind Honolulu. Compare those results to places like South Dakota (211 out of 100,000 ), Arizona (213 per 100,000) or the highest per capita rate of 258 per 100,000 in New Jersey. How we responded to the pandemic mattered. Much of the east coast, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, along with Louisiana, were caught up in the first wave. And others were misled by leaders who underplayed the risks and made choices that actually increased infections, rather than prevented them. Sadly, this has cost more than half a million lives so far.

What all this means to me, is not to live in fear, but to be prepared. I have my earthquake kit at work and in my car, we have water stashed and easy access to first aid. Connecting with community is key, which helped so many of us survive the past year. Let’s remember to continue that connection.

Wash your hands, cover your nose, keep safe six, and be prepared, then sleep will come.

And finally, my caveat is that this is my experience and my opinions, which are subject to change as more information is available, and not related to the organization I work for. Thanks for reading.