Collapsed Cypress Street viaduct
A USGS photo taken after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, providing an aerial view of collapsed sections of the Cypress Viaduct of Interstate 880. (Photo: H.G. Wilshire, U.S. Geological Survey.)

Ear­ly returns in the Novem­ber 2019 gen­er­al elec­tion indi­cate that Sen­ate Joint Res­o­lu­tion 8200 (SJR 8200) will eas­i­ly be approved by Wash­ing­ton State voters.

If passed, SJR 8200 would amend the Wash­ing­ton State Con­sti­tu­tion to allow the state’s emer­gency pow­ers to be invoked in the event of a “cat­a­stroph­ic inci­dent”, as opposed to mere­ly an “ene­my attack” (which is the only sce­nario con­tem­plat­ed in the Con­sti­tu­tion’s exist­ing language.)

The amend­ment would autho­rize the Wash­ing­ton Leg­is­la­ture to pass bills address­ing the suc­ces­sion of pow­ers and duties of elect­ed offi­cials to allow for “con­ti­nu­ity of state and local gov­ern­men­tal operations.”

The amend­ment received the sup­port of large bipar­ti­san majori­ties in both the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and the Sen­ate. It was spon­sored by Dean Takko (D‑19th Dis­trict: South­west Wash­ing­ton), who serves on the Sen­ate’s State Gov­ern­ment Com­mit­tee along­side sen­a­tors like Sam Hunt and Pat­ty Kuderer.

Takko has argued that the amend­ment is nec­es­sary to help Wash­ing­ton pre­pare for a major earth­quake. The pos­si­ble dev­as­ta­tion that a mas­sive trem­blor could cause was mem­o­rably dis­cussed in a 2015 New York­er arti­cle, The Real­ly Big One:

When the next very big earth­quake hits, the north­west edge of the con­ti­nent, from Cal­i­for­nia to Cana­da and the con­ti­nen­tal shelf to the Cas­cades, will drop by as much as six feet and rebound thir­ty to a hun­dred feet to the west — los­ing, with­in min­utes, all the ele­va­tion and com­pres­sion it has gained over centuries.

Some of that shift will take place beneath the ocean, dis­plac­ing a colos­sal quan­ti­ty of sea­wa­ter. (Watch what your fin­ger­tips do when you flat­ten your hand.) The water will surge upward into a huge hill, then prompt­ly col­lapse. One side will rush west, toward Japan.

The oth­er side will rush east, in a sev­en-hun­dred-mile liq­uid wall that will reach the North­west coast, on aver­age, fif­teen min­utes after the earth­quake begins. By the time the shak­ing has ceased and the tsuna­mi has reced­ed, the region will be unrecognizable.

“I grew up between the mouth of the Colum­bia Riv­er and Aberdeen. That’s ground zero for the Cas­ca­dia Sub­duc­tion Zone,” Takko said at the time the amend­ment and a com­pan­ion bill were being con­sid­ered in the Leg­is­la­ture. “We hate to think of a big earth­quake com­ing, but we’re past due for one. If the worst does come and we have an earth­quake, vol­canic erup­tion, or tsuna­mi, this mea­sure will allow us to have a func­tion­al gov­ern­ment when peo­ple will need help the most.

“Last year, this issue got hung up on the last day of ses­sion,” Takko recalled.

“I’m glad that the House has moved ear­li­er this year.”

Oppo­nents of SJR 8200 fear that the amend­ment could allow the state’s emer­gency pow­ers to be more eas­i­ly mis­used, while pro­po­nents have point­ed out that it makes no sense to have emer­gency pow­ers that can only be invoked in the event of a war but not a more like­ly emer­gency sce­nario such as an earth­quake. Vot­ers have clear­ly found the lat­ter argu­ment persuasive.

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