Earthquake danger is high in Washington state, and officials have said for years that not enough is being done to prepare for one.
To begin addressing those deficiencies, the state Department of Natural Resources has asked the Legislature for $543,200 in next year’s supplemental budget to boost study of earthquake risks, particularly for schools, and another $493,200 every year after to continue the work.
In the near future, DNR officials hope to use the cash in two main ways.
First, they would improve maps of earthquake and tsunami hazards and do build on the existing stockpile.
Corina Forson, the agency’s chief hazard geologist, said only about 50 percent of the state is mapped, in varying detail, for tsunami hazards and less than that for evacuation routes. The agency hopes to hire a full-time employee to finish the mapping, as well as complete tsunami modeling for different earthquake scenarios and provide evacuation maps.
DNR also hopes to complete a broad analysis to see if K-12 schools and other essential buildings are safe enough to avoid major damage in an earthquake.
“If we don’t have a clear understanding of what the earthquake hazards are, then we don’t really fully understand what the risk is,” Forson said.
Washington is the only state on the West Coast that hasn’t done such an analysis, a fact that has not gone unnoticed at the Capitol.
The state has looked at about 91 schools thanks to federal grants, Forson said, but DNR hopes to study the rest.
The agency expected to have more than $1 million in the state’s construction budget this year to analyze earthquake safety for about 280 of the most high-risk schools, but that budget was never approved because of a disagreement in the Legislature over rural water policy.
Inslee’s work group offered a number of other recommendations, as have other studies of Washington’s earthquake preparedness. Each differ in cost and difficulty.
DNR officials said Tuesday their budget request is good starting place for their agency, which is only responsible for leading in some areas of earthquake preparations.
Whether there is enthusiasm in the Legislature to approve the money for DNR in 2018 and beyond is unclear. Next year lawmakers will be debating a supplemental budget, which typically tweaks the existing two-year budget rather than implementing major spending decisions.
There is some support for the concepts raised by DNR.
Inslee on Tuesday said in a live-streamed interview with KCTS 9 that the state should “try to reduce the seismic threat to our buildings.”
“We do have more work to do, particularly to evaluate our school buildings to start with,” the governor said.
Chase Gallagher, a spokesman for the governor, followed up Tuesday to say DNR’s request is “certainly part of the larger budget and policy discussions that will continue as we get closer to the start of session in January.”
Inslee also brought up the next possible debate once analysis of seismic risks to essential buildings is completed: deciding whether to retrofit the structures to make them safer or build new ones.
The governor said that would take “huge amounts of investment.”
“How to generate those funds, that’s something legislators are going to have chew on,” he said.
DNR is hoping to complete the leg work necessary to prompt the debate.
“We haven’t even taken stock of what the hazard is at each school,” Forson said.