In event of catastrophe: Study recommends Volunteer Park reservoir remain ready to serve Capitol Hill and beyond

22 million gallons of Cedar River water is waiting atop Capitol Hill (Image: CHS)

A recent study recommends that Volunteer Park’s reservoir will remain exactly that — a reservoir. Even if it were to stay unconnected to the city’s drinking water system, as it is now, the water could prove crucial in the event of a major earthquake. There is a 15-20% likelihood that such an earthquake will hit Seattle within the next 50 years.

Back in 2013, the city began studying the reservoir, along with one in Roosevelt, to see if it was still needed. Federal safety guidelines about protecting the water supply mandate expensive upgrades (basically putting a lid on it) in order to continue using the reservoir as a source of drinking water. So the city considered decommissioning it instead. Continue reading

94-year-old Highland Apartments lined up for seismic overhaul — But first, is it a landmark?

One of the next Capitol Hill buildings to be considered for City of Seattle landmark protections this summer is going through the process before it can also get another sort of important protection — from earthquakes.

The Highland Apartments, the 1924-built masonry condominium building in the 900 block of 11th Ave E just across from Volunteer Park, is lined up to be reviewed in June “in order to ascertain its historic nature prior to a proposed major alteration to the property,” according to the nomination report prepared on behalf of the building’s owner. Continue reading

While Seattle churns on earthquake retrofit plans, Capitol Hill school set for seismic upgrades

E Mercer’s Lowell Elementary is lined up for summer seismic work

Saturday afternoon around 3:35 PM, a magnitude 2.7 earthquake sent a little jolt of reminder rippling out of South Seattle. The city has some seismic work to do.

On Capitol Hill, the next round of work begins this summer as Lowell Elementary School is scheduled for major seismic updates this summer while the city tries to figure out what to do about other brick buildings around town. Continue reading

Plenty of reasons to be earthquake-ready on Capitol Hill

Broadway’s All Pilgrims underwent a seismic upgrade in 2013 (Image: CHS)

Thursday brings another edition of the annual Great Washington Shakeout:

Millions of people worldwide will practice how to
Drop, Cover, and Hold On at 10:19 a.m. on October 19* during Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills!

Washingtonians can join them today by registering for the 2017 Great Washington ShakeOut. Participating is a great way for your family or organization to be prepared to survive and recover quickly from big earthquakes– wherever you live, work, or travel. Learn tips on how to get 2 Weeks Ready and craft your own emergency kits here. ShakeOut is also a major activity of America’s PrepareAthon!

Unfortunately when it comes to the earthquake preparedness of Capitol Hill’s community resources and buildings, not much has changed since last year’s Shakeout. Or since the June 2016 “largest ever” Seattle “Cascadia Rising” drill. Or the February 2016 15th anniversary of the destructive Nisqualy quake.
Continue reading

Seattle has plan to retrofit its most earthquake-risky buildings

In 2016, CHS reported on 300 buildings around Seattle added to city’s list of hundreds of seismically risky “unreinforced masonry” structures that could crumble in a major earthquake. In 2018, the City Council might finally start to do something about it.

Monday, the council heard recommendations from the Unreinforced Masonry Policy Committee around requiring retrofitting across Seattle — and how to pay for it. But even with the renewed recommendations — embedded below — there is still only a fuzzy roadmap to putting new rules into effect:

Having briefed the Council this morning, it’s now in the Council members’ hands to decide how to move these recommendations forward in 2018: whether to once again make retrofit of URM buildings mandatory and under what timeline, which financial assistance programs to pursue, and whether ancillary programs such as the Tenant Relocation Assistance Ordinance should be extended to provide additional aid for tenants displaced by retrofit work. Council member Bagshaw has been vocal about the need to address this issue for some time; it wouldn’t be surprising if she sponsored legislation to adopt the policy committee’s recommendations.

And bricks might not even be the city’s biggest challenge. There is growing evidence that concrete buildings engineered using outdated methods were some of the most vulnerable structures during Mexico City’s big quake in September. “Flat slab” construction is only restricted in parts of the United States.

Meanwhile, some Capitol Hill landowners are moving forward on their own. Last year, CHS reported on details of the voluntary retrofit of the Whitworth Apartments, a classic Capitol Hill apartment building at 17th and John.

The full presentation of recommendations from the committee is below. Continue reading

Classic Capitol Hill apartment building slated for seismic upgrades at 17th/John

The Whitworth Apartments (Image: Cadence Real Estate)

The Whitworth Apartments (Image: Cadence Real Estate)

Pre-WWII brick apartment buildings are part and parcel of Capitol Hill’s charm. Many also need expensive upgrades to ensure they don’t collapse in an inevitable future earthquake.

As the City of Seattle continues to slowly push forward requirements for seismic retrofitting, the new owner of the 56-unit Whitworth Apartments building says he decided to get the work done before the big one hits (not to mention the likely cost-savings of doing the upgrade before a retrofitting law is passed, which will send building owners clamoring for contractors).

Peter Goldman, a longtime Seattle resident, purchased the 17th and E John “unreinforced masonry” building this summer for $18.2 million, property records show. He told CHS his family had recently sold several properties out-of-state and decided to reinvest the money in two Seattle apartment buildings. The U.S. tax code encourages such reinvestments by delaying the capital gains tax.

“The only responsible thing to do is to prepare it for an earthquake,” Goldman said. “I don’t want to wait to be told what to do. I want to do the right thing.” Continue reading

Capitol Hill not part of Seattle’s biggest earthquake preparedness drill

Hubs2015Map-FINALThe largest earthquake drill in Pacific Northwest history is taking place this week and includes residents gathering at neighborhood hubs to act out emergency scenarios. But you won’t find a meet-up on Capitol Hill.

Last year the group Capitol Hill Prepares dissolved its earthquake preparedness activities as a city-identified “Hub” and shut down its website and social media accounts due to a lack of involvement.

Neighborhood Hubs and Seattle Neighborhood’s Actively Prepare groups are intended to be the main units of organizing emergency preparedness in the city, developed by the Office of Emergency Management. Hubs are organized around pre-determined locations where neighbors agree to meet to share information and resources.

Currently Capitol Hill has no active Hub groups. Madison Park has the closest Hub participating in the June 11th drill.

The bulk of the Cascadia Rising drill has taken place behind the scenes this week among government and emergency management agencies across the Pacific Northwest. The exercise simulated an emergency response coordination following a 9.0 earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone. Seattle Fire Department will conduct helicopter drills from the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5 on Saturday.

You can learn more here about building emergency kits and preparing your home in the case of a disaster.

UPDATE 6/10/2016: The person fighting to expand her Broadway Pride street festival into a second day is also stepping up to make Capitol Hill part of Saturday’s earthquake drill:

Cascadia Rising Earthquake Simulation

June 11, 2016

Cal Anderson Park by the shelter house.

with the
CAP-SNAP – Capitol Hill SNAP Disaster Preparedness Group

Meet your neighbor, test your preparedness and plan for the big one!

Chances are, you or someone close to you has medical experience, training, technical skills, experience or equipment that is needed in times of emergency.

Come join the CAP-SNAP Network!

SNAP or Seattle Neighborhood’s Actively Prepare is a city Emergency disaster preparedness plan where groups or SNAP are main units of organizing around locations where neighbors agree to meet and share information and resources to prepare themselves on how to react in emergency situations, so residents can react quickly and appropriately when a real emergency situation occurs.

Currently Capitol Hill has NO SNAP groups although in the past there were Hubs at Cal Anderson Park, Volunteer Park and Miller Playfield.


“Using the safety plan experience and existing network of the Capitol Hill Pride Festival March and Rally – the largest community event on Capitol Hill with residences and businesses, the festival is spring boarding the development of a Disaster Preparedness Group, hopefully permanently and again establishing Cal Anderson Park as a Hub or meeting place to share resources and prepare for emergencies in one of Seattle’s most densely populated neighborhoods,” the announcement from Charlette Lefevre reads.

“We would like as many Neighborhood Leaders, Activists, businesses, organizations, residents, students and youth as possible to participate,” she writes.

Expanded list of seismically risky buildings could spur a new development wave on Capitol Hill

(Image: CHS/Data Source: City of Seattle)

(Image: CHS/Data Source: City of Seattle)

The City of Seattle has added some 300 buildings to its list of old brick structures most at risk of damage or collapse in the event of a major earthquake. Among the 1,160 “unreinforced masonry structures” counted in a recent report, Capitol Hill continues to have the most of any neighborhood in the city.

The latest URM survey added 16 Capitol Hill structures to the city’s 2012 list, bringing the neighborhood’s total count to 152 URM buildings — 13% of all URMs in Seattle. 44 were counted on First Hill and 24 were counted in the Central Area/Squire ParkScreen Shot 2016-04-25 at 10.39.07 PM

Property owners with buildings on the list began receiving notifications this month from Seattle’s Department of Construction and Inspections. No immediate action is required, but it may be in the future.

Finalizing the inventory of URMs is an important step in the city’s goal to one day mandate all URMs undergo seismic retrofitting. Currently, property owners are only required to retrofit URMs when there is a major upgrade or change of use of their building. The city has been working on a mandate for years and the City Council is not expected to consider legislation until 2017.

The report found the vast majority of Capitol Hill’s URMs had no evidence of retrofitting, although it is possible some work was overlooked. Owners have an opportunity to challenge the URM designation or offer additional information, but they will need to hire an engineer to perform an in-depth analysis of the the building, according to the report.

That could kick off another round of Capitol Hill preservation developments and demolitions. Earthquake prevention work can be an enormously expensive, especially for individual owners who may deicide to sell in the face of such costs. It happened before at the Callahan Auto building and many fear a retrofit mandate would put many businesses and independent property owners in jeopardy. By using preservation incentives, DCI says it wants to save as many buildings as possible.

“The last thing we want to do is to encourage people to demolish these structures,” said DCI spokesperson Bryan Stevens. “Generally speaking, I think people want to see these structures preserved.” Continue reading

15 years after Nisqually, some things you should know about an earthquake on Capitol Hill

There are reminders all around us. 12th Ave’s Piston and Ring building, pictured here, has seismic bracing that elegantly gives the auto row-era structure added support for the next time the earth quakes in Seattle.

Sunday’s anniversary of the 6.8 magnitude Nisqually earthquake marked 15 years since the last truly big shaker hit the city.

Last fall, officials said they had shifted advice for city dwellers for being prepared for the next big quake from having enough supplies for three days to “a more realistic” 7 to 10 days. Kits should include one gallon of water per person per day, food, a light source, and a first aid kit. The anniversary seems like a good excuse for you to do some shopping. Continue reading

City briefed on how Seattle is prepping for ‘the big one’

The Really Big One was a scary reminder of how vulnerable Seattle is to not one, but two disastrous earthquake scenarios. City Council members recently asked the Seattle Office of Emergency Management to run down what exactly we’re doing to prepare for them.

A couple weeks back, OEM director Barb Graff laid out the city’s recent preparedness efforts. Among the most notable changes over the past two years was OEM has shifted its advice to being prepared for three days to “a more realistic” 7-10 days. Kits should include on gallon of water per person per day, food, a light source, and a first aid kit.

OEM also directly trains and facilitates training for emergency preparedness. According to Graff OED has:

  • Trained 713 people in disaster skills
  • Delivered Seattle Neighborhoods Actively Prepare (SNAP) programs to nearly 4,300 people
  • Trained 20 Community Safety Ambassadors who teach preparedness to their own cultural communities
  • Formed 18 new “hubs” (more than 50 in place now) where people gather to help or be helped

Unfortunately, Capitol Hill lags behind with no active hubs or SNAP groups mostly due to a lack of involvement, OEM’s community planning organizer Debbie Goetz told CHS earlier this year. While Capitol Hill has three designated hubs where people are supposed to gather after a natural disaster, there are no point groups tied to those locations.

In June, the group Capitol Hill Prepares announced it would dissolving its earthquake preparedness activities at the Cal Anderson Park hub and shutting down its website and social media accounts, which were the most active in the neighborhood.

OEM has also used Federal Emergency Management Agency grants for projects like seismic retrofitting on low income homes and a public awareness campaign about unreinforced masonry buildings.

Over the past two years, the agency has activated the City’s Emergency Operations Center 15 times. The agency is also preparing for a multi-day preparedness exercise in June 2016. Cascade Rising will include local, state, and federal agencies in Western Washington and Oregon.

In August, the city launched AlertSeattle — a service that gives users real time updates in emergency situations through text messages and email. So far, 16,000 people have signed up.

OEM hosts a “Preparing for the Big One” class. The next open class is on November 17th at the Green Lake public library.