“How did it get so late so soon? It's night before it's afternoon.” - Dr. Seuss
by Chason Gordon
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Does anyone here know why I’m sitting in a vibrating chair? Anyone? No, it’s not because I’m bad at making popcorn, and no, my cousin doesn’t work at a furniture store, though those are good guesses. I’m sitting in a vibrating chair because I’m here to talk to you about earthquakes.
Before I describe how earthquakes will kill us all, let’s define our terms (I’ve always wanted to say that). What is an earthquake? How is it different from a volcano, or the movie “Volcano,” starring Tommy Lee Jones?
You see, although it seems like we’re all standing on a surface only inches deep, the earth has several layers (like lasagna!). Let’s do a roll call: we have the inner core, outer core, mantle, and crust (like pie!). The mantle is not all one piece, but is comprised of several shifting rocks, otherwise known as tectonic plates (if you know this skip to paragraph 5). These neurotic slabs of rock are constantly shifting and pressing against each other along fault lines. Since the rocks are not made of Teflon, they occasionally stick to each other and get caught. When the pressure becomes too much, the rocks break and an earthquake occurs, wherein a sudden release of energy causes seismic waves that make the ground shake. This paragraph exhausted me.
If you still don’t quite understand how earthquakes happen, try out this little experiment, which I learned from the Michigan Tech website (terrible football team). Go and get a piece of rubber foam (I’ll wait). Now break it in two, put the pieces flat on a table, and press them against each other, pulling one piece towards you and pushing the other away. If you’re doing it correctly (you screwed it up, didn’t you?), a little piece of foam will break off and the two slabs will rush past each other (the Capitol Hill Times is not liable for broken arms that may occur as the result of this experiment). That’s pretty much how an earthquake works. Don’t you feel all powerful, creating foam earthquakes on your kitchen table? You are like a god!
Unfortunately, Seattle happens to rest along these so-called fault lines (thanks pioneers!). We have the acutely named Seattle Fault, which lies below the Puget Sound Lowland and just south of downtown, and the offshore Cascadia fault, which stretches from Northern California to north of Vancouver Island (these are just the famous ones). According to a report by the U.S. Geological Survey and University of Washington, the areas of Seattle potentially most affected by an earthquake would be the University District, Montlake, Queen Anne, Magnolia, and South Seattle (whew!). Capitol Hill will obviously be hit as well, but considering the ubiquity of bike helmets, I’m not too worried about it.
Most people learn what to do in an earthquake from watching disaster films. But safety officials still find it necessary to educate the public, which brings us to The Great Washington ShakeOut, a thing that occurred last week.
In case you missed it, The Great Washington ShakeOut was not a scheduled earthquake, because that would be frightening. It was a day for people and schools and businesses to prepare themselves in the event of an earthquake. Over 700,000 people (squares) took part in the drills. There was no central event or meeting place, so the whole thing was like an elaborate game of charades. Safety charades!
Since I’m making fun, I might as well pass along the core message: if you find yourself in an earthquake (ahhh!), drop, cover and hold on (not to be confused with stop, drop and roll, or shake, rattle and roll, or stop in the name of love). But what is it that must be dropped, covered, and held onto? The experts insist that you drop to the ground “before the earthquake drops you,” which sounds like “break up with her before she breaks up with you.” Once you’re on the ground and notice how filthy the carpet is, you should take cover underneath a desk or table, and hold on to it until the shaking stops (if it doesn’t stop, pray or scream or something).
At the moment, I’m sitting in a room without a desk or table, so if an earthquake strikes right now, I’m fucked (and wouldn’t you be lucky, not having to read this article). In any case, there are also a few things you should not do in the event of an earthquake, contrary to public opinion. You should not get in a doorway (in modern homes doorways are no safer), run outside (“hey everybody it’s an earthquake!”), or believe the so-called “triangle of life,” which came from a heavily circulated email (that was me, sorry).
I have some advice as well. Purchase a bouncy castle and keep it inflated at all times, just in case. Or get in the fridge, because if you’re buried underground, at least there’s something to eat. If you don’t want to do anything and would prefer to accept the random chaos of the universe, that’s fine as well, but try not to bump your head.