Lately I’ve been thinking about the idea of “seismic culture”, particularly in the PNW of the US. What does seismic culture mean to you? Here’s my definition:
Seismic culture is the accumulation of mutual understandings of seismic risk that have become embedded within a region. It encompasses shared activities, attitudes, behaviors, perceptions, artifacts and documentation practices related to earthquakes that may translate to states of, for example, apathy, awareness, or preparedness. Seismic culture can be expressed tangibly by, for instance, the prevalence of earthquake-resistant buildings or public scientific discourse. It can also be expressed tacitly through, for example, local preparedness know-how or, more diffusely, through verbal, visual, political, and economic narratives.
More practically, is seismic culture about a region’s earthquake mythology and narratives? Like the Maori’s earthquake god?
Or the Quileute and Hoh legend of Thunderbird and Whale in the Pacific Northwest, which helped date the 1700 Cascadia earthquake. https://www.hakaimagazine.com/article-long/great-quake-and-great-drowning
Seismic culture may be expressed across the cityscape, such as promoting how seismic retrofits are being done to an existing building.
Or signs on buildings that warn of a building’s vulnerability, like done in San Francisco.
New Zealand’s national museum even makes earthquake resistant design a part of their permanent exhibits. The Quake Breaker exhibit lets you go underneath the building to see the base isolation.
In the Taipei 101 tower, tourists are encouraged to view the amazing tuned mass dampeners that hang in the middle of the skyscraper.
Less formal, inside most public and commercial buildings across Mexico City, store-bought signs remind occupants evert day what to do when the ground starts shaking.
In some regions of the world, you can see reminders of earthquake hazard on the landscape, like this tsunami warning siren in Iwate Prefecture, Japan. In the coastal communities of the US, tsunami evacuation signs are omnipresent.
Of course norms, rituals, and practices are part of culture. The Great ShakeOut is trying to create an annual ritual to practice drop, cover, hold. (That’s me!) https://www.shakeout.org/
Some places have very little seismic culture until it’s thrust upon them (pun intended). Like in Quake City, NZ—Christchurch—which is steeped in seismic culture since 2011.
Washington and Oregon haven’t had seismic culture thrust on them really. But I like to think there is a seismic culture war between the two states.
And I think Oregon is winning the friendly competition to embedding practices and norms within institutions and the public sphere.
Quantitatively, Oregon has engaged in a lot more earthquake-related policy (and politician) activity than WA, particularly given that it has less risk than Washington. http://earthquakespectra.org/doi/abs/10.1193/060314EQS081M?code=eeri-site
As Sandi Doughton laid out, Washington has a history of studying earthquakes, making recommendations, and not doing much to follow through.
Recently, Governor Inslee’s seismic resilience subcabinet released yet another set of recommendations, but rather than commit money like Oregon has, the recommendations prioritize cheap & easy.
Oregon has passed multiple earthquake-related laws and included sources of funding for them as well. The seismic safety committee in Oregon is mandated; not so in Washington.
Oregon one-upped WA by appointing a chief resilience officer to promote seismic culture, rather than just a temporary subcabinet group. Seattle has a CRO, but has done nothing visible related to earthquakes.
In Washington, the way that the public’s seismic culture is most influenced, I think, is via news and social media.
By far and away, the Seattle Times has published the most in WA on the topic of earthquakes, in particular the amazing Seismic Neglect series by Sandi Doughton and Daniel Gilbert
For the most however, the coverage is about earthquakes that occur around the world and mostly those that cause significant physical, human, or financial impact.
This word cloud of headlines for earthquake-related stories published in the Seattle Times since 1985 gives a good sense of what readers find out about earthquakes
This list of words are the top 100 words that make earthquake-related stories in the Seattle Times different from their other published stories.
Locally, what’s had the most influence on the region’s seismic culture seems to be recording the shaking from the Kingdome demolition, the risky siting of the Brightwater plant, debates around Seattle’s vulnerable viaduct, the Nisqually earthquake, Safeco Field shaking (e.g., BeastQuake), and of course all the talk of the Big One on the Cascadia Fault
The question I have is how do we improve the seismic culture in WA (and elsewhere) when the primary influence is news media, rather than experiences, shared stories, expressions across the landscape/cityscape, and common rituals like school drills?