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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.

Since 2001’s Nisqually quake, many buildings have been reinforced like the Piston and Ring preservation-friendly development. Here’s a look at how Capitol Hill’s greatest old buildings stand up, with elegance, to earthquakes.

Meanwhile, a 2012 survey effort by the city showed Capitol Hill is home to one of the largest clusters of unreinforced masonry buildings in the city.

The city has yet to implement requirements it has been working on for years to mandate quake readiness projects for unreinforced masonry buildings in Seattle. Still, some property owners have moved forward with reinforcement projects as the mandate work continues. In 2013, the city told CHS 14% of all buildings designated as URM structures were undergoing voluntary retrofits. Nearly 20% of Seattle’s unreinforced masonry structures are on Capitol Hill, First Hill, and in the Central District.

Reinforcement strategies vary. Look for tiebacks embedded into the masonry that connect the walls to the floor joints. Other buildings use steel beams to supplement the existing structure. In some solutions, the braces take the form of a large “X” while others form a chevron.

It’s not just apartment buildings that need the work. There’s been an increased effort to educate homeowners that Capitol Hill’s old houses can slide off of foundations or suffer collapsed chimneys. And in 2014, E Pine’s Fire Station 25 reopened after a $2.5 million earthquake retrofit.

While our buildings are, on average, stronger than in 2001, Capitol Hill’s community preparedness lags. Last June, a Capitol Hill preparedness group announced it would be dissolving its earthquake preparedness activities as a city-identified emergency communications “Hub.” 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. Currently, Capitol Hill has no active Hubs or SNAP groups.

We do, however, have the city’s AlertSeattle system launched last summer. The customizable service will alert users to severe weather, public safety issues, utility service disruptions, and major traffic incidents. Someday, maybe soon, you may also get an alert like this from

AlertSeattle: A 7.5 earthquake occurred at 10:55 a.m. on the Seattle fault line. Drop, cover and hold on during aftershocks. Visit for safety information.

Hopefully, you put together that seven to ten day supply of water, food, flashlights, and a first aid kit.

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

  1. Great Idea, Seattle! Lets move thousands of more people into a small crowded neighborhood and DO NOTHING to prepare for an emergency! If anything does happen (earthquake, or even a fire in one of the new mega buildings) Capitol Hill Residents are in big trouble! From experience, downtown will receive any aid available and Cap Hill will get nothing!