NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, November 5th, 2019

Voters give thumbs up to amendment to make Washington State more earthquake-ready

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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