Shake, Shake, Shake: A Reflection on the Nisqually Earthquake

Brenna Woslum, staff writer


2018 marks the 17th anniversary of the Nisqually earthquake. The infamous earthquake struck on the morning of Ash Wednesday (Feb. 28, 2001), at 10:54 a.m., and lasted between 40 and 45 seconds.  With a magnitude of 6.8, it was the largest earthquake many Washington residents had experienced in their lives the most , and the most strongly felt in over 50 years. The earthquake caused approximately two billion dollars in damage, including damage to the Washington State Capitol building, Pioneer Square, the Starbucks headquarters, and the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle. The damage in Olympia included cracks to the dome of the Capitol building, fallen façade from downtown buildings, a landslide on Highway 101, and the closure of the Fourth Avenue bridge in downtown Olympia. Falling brickwork and other damages contributed to an injury count of 400. Only one casualty was reported, a heart attack caused by the stress of the earthquake. Local hospitals reported treating many patients for trauma related anxiety and chest pains. Saint Peter’s Hospital reportedly treated 50 cases of quake related injuries, and several dozen Olympia residents were temporarily displaced from their homes at the Olympian Apartments.

Saint Martin’s closed for the day after the earthquake struck, as did The Evergreen State College, and many local grade schools. Although the campus suffered minimal structural damages, books were knocked from their shelves in the monastic library.  “A lovely statue of the Virgin Mary that we had in the monastery fell on its face and we had to bury it, as is proper with statues which have been irreparably damaged,” reported Fr. Gerard Kirsch, who was in the monastery when the earthquake struck.

In the years since the earthquake, many forms of earthquake proofing have been implemented at state buildings and local businesses. Conversion of the Alaskan Way Viaduct to a tunnel is currently underway, although the damage to the tunneling machine Bertha may have delayed completion of the project. While much has been done to improve safety in the event of another major earthquake, many feel that Washington is still largely unprepared should a similar, or even larger, quake hit the region.

Cascadia Rising, a drill put on by FEMA in 2016, found the Washington State response to a potential large magnitude earthquake an extremely unprepared one. Contributing to that unpreparedness is a lack of funding and staffing shortages at emergency management organizations. Due to these obstacles to preparedness at a government level, it is now recommended that individuals have two weeks of supplies set aside in case of emergencies, including food and water, and to take some basic first aid trainings. For those living in campus housing, this can be an intimidating suggestion. Thankfully, trainings on earthquake preparedness are available from a number of organizations, and several community events are planned for the near future to practice earthquake response as well as demonstrating how to create emergency preparedness kits. The Great Washington Shakeout is an excellent example of one such event and is set to take place on Oct. 18, 2018. Participants can register online to practice and learn with other Washington State residents. According to, last year’s events drew over one million participants, and current registration for this year’s event is already passing two thousand people. At this point, Saint Martin’s is not listed in the directory of participating colleges, but it is worth considering if the college should hold its own form of emergency preparedness training this year.

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