The Road to Good Health

Ten years after the earthquake shook western Washington, the region has overhauled its road and healthcare systems and community structure to create an innovative approach to streamline robust delivery of critical medical treatment. Following the Seattle Fault Earthquake in 2015, the King County community sprung into action, creating a cutting edge transportation plan to streamline critical medical treatment and overall create a stronger and healthier King County. Recovering the highway system after it sustained an estimated $4,143,000,000 in damages has been no small task to plan for.

This story is a work of fiction, including all names and quotes, written by WWU DRR students for public education purposes. Site design by Dr. Scott Miles.

With 124 bridges at least moderately damaged and 27 bridges completely damaged, many areas were left unreachable by ground transportation or required long alternate routes to access. The fragmented roadways and poorly located hospital facilities greatly hampered emergency responders’ ability to reach those in need of emergency response and transporting them to the necessary facilities.

King County fire chief commented, “As soon as the shaking started my mind immediately went to what was going to happen with secondary impacts. Hazards such as landslides, tsunami, and fires, which are caused as a result of the earthquake, can often be much more deadly than the initial event. Secondary impacts also can greatly hamper our ability to reach affected areas.” And with as great of an impact as the Seattle Fault Quake had, that was absolutely the case.

Countless instances of landslides, liquefaction, rock fall, and other debris obstructions blocked roads and highways in King County. This rendered many as unusable and constrained community accessibility. The damages and secondary hazard events resulting from the earthquake caused limited access and mobility of community members, endangering many lives to due lack of access to critical treatment and supplies. This, paired with the preexisting irregularly dispersed medical facilities, created an emergency response crisis that King County has vowed to never let be repeated.

Community hubs provide community, educational, health care, security and counseling services all in one place!

Community hubs provide community, educational, health care, security and counseling services all in one place!

In response to the disastrous results of the quake, King County has completely re-envisioned their road system in conjecture to medical facilities. The new system utilizes compact and pedestrian oriented community hubs.  The community centers link healthcare facilities, housing, and community services. This allows for greater access and more proportionately located facilities in relation to the surrounding population density. With health care facilities and community services in the center and housing expanding outwards from the hub, the new structure allows for much more even dispersal of medical facilities within the community. The hubs already in place have created a much more efficient and accessible system that allows for much smaller time intervals between deployment of emergency first responders and arrival at medical facilities.

King County admired the rebuilding efforts that improved accessibility in Samoa after the 2009 tsunami.  The rebuilding efforts focused on improving the road network and fixing damages to roads that became inaccessible after the disaster.  By improving the roadways and relocating critical means of infrastructure and services, the community has become a model for how to improve resilience towards future disasters. Reconstruction efforts restored access for emergency response services and clean up.  Improved transport access was an outcome of relocation projects that heightened ease of access to schools, clinics and other social opportunities. Another goal of this rebuilding effort was to create dual access escape routes.  Although this plan focused on tsunami evacuation, King County felt that the idea of multiple routes of access would improve the functioning of the region in a hazard event. The county realized that by improving the regions roadways, accessibility would be maximized and response in the case of an emergency would be enhanced.

The chief of Rainier Memorial hospital commented, “The new system has greatly improved the community’s ability to access health care both on a daily basis as well as in times of emergency like we experienced after the Seattle Fault Quake.” Since the hub system promotes the efficient use of land, the community structure encourages a maximization of the community’s development potential long-term stability and sustainable urban growth will be assured throughout King County.

Since many hospitals near the epicenter of the earthquake sustained extensive damages that required the facilities to be completely rebuilt, King County took this opportunity to relocate many of the facilities to areas where they will be better able to properly serve the surrounding community. In the past, King County hospitals have faced the issue of the need for medical centers  being disproportionate to the amount of access available to facilities. Relocating these establishments will have great benefits to both medical facilities as well as the community.

Unfortunately the improvements have come at a steep price. The  new system project is expected to be quite costly and King County is looking to new sources to acquire the needed funding. NGOS from around the world have lent alongside relief agencies and private investors to help raise funding for Washington State in support of rebuilding efforts. Both public and private beneficiaries have helped the county to raise funds and the final payments are expected to be made at the end of this year.

Implementation of bike lanes improving accessibility King County.

Implementation of bike lanes improving accessibility King County.

Not only is King County creating a system, which will be more efficient due to physical placement and accessibility, but the system is also implementing some of the most energy-efficient technology available. King County’s new medical centers are creating quite the buzz as thirteen new LEED platinum certified community hubs have already been put in place, with plans for five more in the works. LEED certification is internationally regarded as the highest achievement of green building. With rain gardens to capture and recycle water, energy conserving design, and 100% powered by renewable energy sources, King County’s new facilities are going where few have gone before. Community hubs were strategically placed to be located in the most sustainable sites possible where impacts to surrounding ecosystems and water resources are minimized. The facilities are also well-integrated into the surrounded community, a variety of transportation options are available at each site and the communities are specifically designed to be highly pedestrian friendly with a full system of bike lanes and sidewalks. King County is revolutionizing the healthcare industry and improving the resilience of  the community.

Transportation expansion and availability was key to the success of improved accessibility and modeled the efforts made in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.  Repair and reconstruction to the extensive roadway system embraced the inclusion of bike routes in the restored infrastructure. Bike routes have shared lane markings and some individual routes separate from the roadways.  Attention was especially focused on expanding mobility for pedestrians and cyclists within the city.  Just as in New Orleans, bicycle use in King County increased because of the improved accessibility it provided.  The project also turned abandoned industrial ways into community space, transforming old railways into walkways.  King County striven for this efficiency and through its efforts provided increased access to diverse demographics throughout the County.

The social hubs provide accessible medical care in an efficient manner. With a variety of facilities all located in one location central to the population that it serves, makes care more convenient and eliminating excess transportation and delivery costs. Communities are embracing this new system and in many cases mini shopping centers and local businesses are springing up surrounding the community facilities creating convenient centers of commerce to the neighborhoods.

City planner Mike Jones commented that “The centralized medical hubs are working out even better than planned as they are creating an entire network of walkable, pedestrian friendly communities.” The new hubs have also inspired a new-found trend in sustainability and efficiency as the community is taking great pride in the “greening” of King County. Many families are rebuilding their houses with inspiration from the community hubs, striving to make them as eco-friendly and efficient as possible. Expert projections signify that the greater King County area is on track to become the number one county with most LEED certified homes per capita within the next five years.

While the recently developed community structure has created a “new normal” that many were hesitant to try out, the hub system has proved itself to be well worth the work and adaptations. King County prides itself on its ability to conquer adversity and thrive despite challenging circumstances. This new system will allow King County as well as the entire King County area to be prepared in case another emergency should occur. Since the local community healthcare centers are now equally dispersed throughout king county rather than clustered in one location, king county will be much more resilient to future hazards and able to better spread critical services to more of the population than ever before. This spread of facilities will greatly decrease the vulnerability of the community as a whole and allow for more people to receive care.

While the costs to implement the new community hub system were initially quite high, King County is already seeing a great return on the investment. Communities are now much more time, energy, and cost efficient. Both LEED certified buildings and drastically reduced commute times have reduced costs in both the private and public sectors. Now emergency responders are able to much more effectively reach those and need and transport them to medical centers which lessens the cost for the patient and allows the responders to lessen their turnaround time between patients. The communities are now much more walkable, so people are spending less money on gas, less time in traffic, and overall living a lifestyle which is much healthier for both themselves and the environment. With happiness and quality of life ratings for those living in the county to be at an all-time high, an overwhelming public support of the project, and decreased if not elimination of electrical costs within the hubs creating the happiest and most sustainable King County to ever exist. As a county, daily driving commute times are half of what they were before the earthquake due to the greatly improved road system. People are paying lower energy bills. King County is now considered to be the prime example of building back better and making the most of a disaster.

The efficiency and sustainability of the new and improved community system is the pride of the county. King County has already seen a great influx of both tourism and increase in population as people from all over the world have flocked to see the rebirth of King County and learn from the revolutionary urban planning. It is now common occurrence to see King County listed at the top of lists titled along the lines of “Greatest Cities to Live” or “Eco-Friendliest Utopias.” Though prior to the Seattle Fault Quake it was already common to see blue and green King County pride flags, lights, and decor displayed in nearly every possible location in support of King County’s local sports, the new community hubs have brought a whole new meaning to King County’s spirited green.