The Great Shakeout–Will Seattle’s Tsunami Chimes Ring?

I’ve a mind to drive downtown on Thursday October 15 at 10:15 AM and roll down my car window. I’d like to hear the sound of the tsunami chimes ringing out. Wouldn’t you?

Seattle, and the whole nation for that matter, is preparing for the “Great Shakeout” earthquake drill scheduled then. I’m registered to participate as an individual who’s ready to get “all shook up,” along with many Seattleites in all walks of life and diverse places of school, work, or what-have-you.

This year, I’ve picked out tsunami preparedness as my special area of concern. This comes in response to things I learned while researching my novel, The Great Seattle Earthquake, published last year. You see, when I looked into the idea of a major quake striking right underfoot on the Seattle Fault, I learned that, in addition to the trauma and loss of life that would come from such a natural disaster, the threat of a devastating tsunami has been pretty well established by recent scientific studies. So, that leaves me wondering, are Seattle’s emergency planners covering this possibility adequately, or at all?

My research left me, well, just a little worried that the answer is “kind of.” As I wrote a year ago, I found the tsunami preparedness plan for our two waterfront stadiums definitely less-than-adequate. Here’s a link to that older article. This year, I’ve been wandering around the internet trying to glean any news about an improved stadium plan, but so far I’ve found nothing at all. That’s a step up, in my opinion, because the old plan told people to calmly exit the stadiums, which might mean tens of thousands of people walking straight into an oncoming tidal wave. So, the good news is, I didn’t find any of that old misinformation in the present plans. I guess maybe my blog did some good, somehow. On the other hand, what I found was–nothing at all.

But I did find an old Seattle Post Intelligencer article from 2005 describing the installation of the waterfront warning system shown above. According to that article, this is what you’ll hear in an emergency:

“The first thing will be a tone that’s an attention getter so people will listen,” Steve Marten, project manager said. “We’ve chosen the Westminster chimes.”

“That will be followed by an actual voice that will give a specific message so that we can direct people to do what they need to do to get out of harm’s way.”

Hopefully, 15 years later, this system is still in operation and ready to deliver the message, “Run like hell for high ground!” But I haven’t found much information about it other than the old article. Let’s hope it’s currently in place and in the hands of people who are ready to deliver the life-saving message.

As I portrayed vividly in my novel, folks in the stadium area will have only a few minutes to make up their minds whether they’ll flee to safety–or die.

So, yeah. I think I’ll drive downtown Thursday morning and find out how well the system is working.

Update October 16, 2020: I did like I said and went down to the waterfront and listened as 10:15 came and went without a sound. I stood there on Ivar’s Pier 54, staring at the Fireboat Leschi, which figures so prominently in The Great Seattle Earthquake, moored next door at Fire Station Number Five. I noticed that the alarm speakers shown above had been removed. But I can’t help but wonder. In the event of a quake on the Seattle Fault, those loudspeakers would be lifesavers. So, where did they go?

About Tom Hopp

Thomas P Hopp is a scientist and author living in Seattle. He writes medical thrillers, natural disaster novels, and the Dinosaur Wars science fiction series.
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