BI getting better prepared for The Big One

In a discussion about being prepared for natural disasters on Bainbridge Island, City Councilmember Jon Quitslund said it’s all a little “scary.”

Trying to relieve those concerns, Scott James of Bainbridge Prepares recommended that Quitslund get involved in his local Map Your Neighborhood project.

“With that flip chart under your bed, Jon, you will sleep better at night,” James said.

Map Your Neighborhood is just one thing the city and Bainbridge Prepares are doing to prepare for a disaster. With that program, neighbors take inventory of their skills and work together if there is an emergency because it could take a while for professional help to come.

Anne LeSage, Emergency Management coordinator for the city, gave a local report to the City Council Sept. 20. It was in response to Statewide Tsunami Modeling news released in July. The report is about the need to consider sea-level rise and long-term tsunami impacts.

The city is investing time and funds into getting prepared. There is Community Emergency Response Team training, Wilderness First Responder training and amateur radio licensing. It is also trying to expand its Map Your Neighborhood efforts, as 36% are mapped now.

As for tsunamis, LeSage’s report says that could happen if an offshore earthquake hit Alaska or Japan. According to the state Department of Natural Resources, a huge wave could hit BI within hours. Same goes for an up to 10.0 quake in the Cascadia Subduction Zone off the coast. It would be even worse with a 7.5 quake at the Seattle Fault Zone, as a tsunami wave could hit within minutes.

Seattle Fault Modeling: Mostly east side of island. Wave within three minutes. Fay Bainbridge 11 feet underwater, Manitou Beach 32 feet and Pritchard Park 21 feet.

Cascade Modeling: Wave within 2 1/2 hours. Impact primarily east side of island with Fay Bainbridge inundation 3.3 feet of water, and Eagle Harbor 2.3 feet.

Emergency preparedness

The city wants to be better prepared for such a disaster, before, during and after. Benefits include minimizing losses, access to technical support, and improved positioning for state and federal funds. BI is applying for Storm Ready Designation and is trying to become the first inner coastal city in the state to receive a similar tsunami designation from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration/National Weather Service.

The city wants to map tsunami hazard zones and evacuation routes, provide ongoing education, conduct community exercises, have a 24-hour warning system and more. There is some tsunami signage around the island, but there will be more.

Regarding Map Your Neighborhood, LeSage said neighbors meet at one of their houses and inventory who has medical experience, who has a chainsaw, etc. Then, when something happens, they put those skills to work. They can also find out if someone has specific medical needs or if kids need to be picked up from school. “They care for one another,” she said.

First responders could then focus on all the tourists that may be stuck here, as they would have an abundance of needs. Another aspect they could focus on is a flotilla. Since BI is an island, there could be no ferry services for months in the event of a tsunami, for example. Along the West Coast, fixing Agate Bridge would be far down on the list.

So, many locals with boats have signed up to be part of a flotilla that would transport people to and from the island. First responders, and even LeSage herself, would need access to a boat because they live off-island but need to be here to help. And there needs to be plans in case docks are wiped out during a disaster, she said.

LeSage added that boats are located all over, and “that’s good” in case one area is hit harder than others. She said during a practice run she caught a boat at Little Manzanita where there was no dock. She said “whatever the sturdiest vessel in the water is” would be relied on to check out conditions around the island to see where the best spots would be for ferrying passengers.

Council response

Councilmember Leslie Schneider said she was glad to hear about the report. It’s not as gloomy as she thought it would be. We used to hear that “anything west of I-5 is toast,” if there was a tsunami, she said, adding an event like that is really a series of waves over 1 1/2 hours.

Mayor Joe Deets said he was glad for the presentation because he’s lived here 20 years, and this is the first time tsunamis have been discussed at this level. As a result, he said there will need to be a lot of public education.

LeSage agreed. “In Japan, they teach them from kindergarten up. Every child knows what to do” during a disaster. That “level of awareness is something we could embrace here.”

Quitslund said he’s impressed with what’s already been done. “It’s motivated me to be more in touch with my neighbors,” he said.

Councilmember Michael Pollock said even though such a massive disaster has a low probability it’s good to be prepared. “Everybody in Puget Sound is going to have problems,” he said, adding it could take a long time to get any help.

Deputy Mayor Clarence Moriwaki said the new tsunami signs will be a great indicator to the public of where it could happen. It’s almost like the island is going to tip with the east side lower and the west side higher.

Bainbridge Prepares

James, founder and board chair, said he started the nonprofit 11 years ago, and the fire department and city have now joined.

He said it started a groundswell of working from the grassroots up regarding disasters. He said people need to help themselves and each other. “If they (first responders) have to come out to our neighborhoods and babysit us it won’t work,” he said of disaster response.

He said there are already 640 volunteers involved in emergency response teams, and disaster hubs within walking distance of everyone on the island.

James said this isn’t just about quakes and wildfires. The system can also help in pandemics, like it did with COVID-19 vaccinations. It could also help with an influx of refugees or if there was any type of political uprising.

James challenged the council and staff to do two things. One is to get involved with Map Your Community. “It’s taken us ten years to do 36 percent” of the neighborhoods, he said, adding people can hear about it seven times and still ignore it. “The only way we can break through is by word of mouth,” he said.

James also encouraged all to get involved with “Stop the Bleed” with the fire department. “Everyone can do this,” he said, adding check out

He also recommended that anyone who can take two weeks of training become a Wilderness First Responder. The next training starts Oct. 21. Half is online and half in person. Once obtained, after participants take care of their family, loved ones and neighbors, they will be expected to help out at a disaster hub.

James reminded all that Bainbridge Prepares provides stopgap measures. “We step in when other resources can’t handle the issue.”

Tsunami waves hit a seaside town. Courtesy Photo