Winning the Hearts and Minds of Our Communities

After sustaining extensive and expensive damages to schools, hospitals, homes and emergency facilities from the M7.2 King County Fault earthquake, King County seizes the opportunity to create a healthier and revitalized community.

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.

In 2015 the region experienced one of the largest earthquakes to ever hit the Pacific Northwest. The quake caused widespread structural damage across the greater puget sound area from strong shaking, liquefaction, and landslides. A population of over 850,000 felt the shaking and over 10,000 were injured.

Some of the most vital structures in any community during an emergency are hospitals. As a result of the King County Fault earthquake, twelve hospitals across the county sustained extensive  structural damage compromising the safety of the facility. at a minimum, every hospital facility in the greater King County area was affected and sustained at structural damage after the quake. Harborview Medical Center and Swedish Medical center, two of King County’s largest and most widely used facilities, were forced to close their doors for six months.

Nearly 3,500 people sustained injuries from the earthquake which required hospitalization. Of those injured, 527 lost their lives during or after the quake. The sudden surge of patients on the structurally compromised hospitals put pressure on the remaining hospitals to provide emergency procedures for the frantic and distraught residents of King County.  The closure of Swedish and Harborview additionally increased chaos and forced many patients to travel longer distances to facilities further away. Through Increasing risk and expending valuable emergency responder resources, the value of these structures in emergency situations was recognized.

While the damages to hospitals were extensive and costly, King County to optimistically sprung into action by building a better, healthier hospital system. Damages to vital buildings such as schools and hospitals were severe and extensive. In many cases the structures was not fixable and had to be destroyed. Rather than rebuilding all the structures in their pre-earthquake location, King County is creating a new community layout that better fulfills the needs of the people.

Prior to the earthquake there were many aspects pertaining to the layout of important building in the community that were less than ideal. Hospital location, for example, was no longer fulfilling the current needs of the existing demographic. Population growth has been rapidly increasing in King County for decades before the earthquake, and was quickly exceeding the ability for the network of hospitals to proportionately expand. Because of this swift growth, some hospitals were not built in locations which were the most accessible to many in the community. The need to completely rebuild several hospitals is gave King County the opportunity to also redesign the layout of the community to more evenly disperse important community centers to where they are most needed. Moving health care facilities to locations where they are more centrally located and proportionally accessible in accordance to population density is allowing the system to function more efficiently as a whole. Better placement of hospitals allows them to be utilized to their optimum potential and disperses the stress placed on higher population area facilities. While many facilities were already located in key areas such as First Hill in King County which is serves some of the densest populations in King County, additional facilities are now provided in areas which previously did not have close access to good health care.

King County has also optimized the physical design of the new hospital facilities themselves. King County is doing what few communities have ever done before. With the aim for a goal of rebuilding back King County with at least 75% of the buildings LEED certified platinum. The new King County is safer and more sustainable than ever before.

LEED certified health care facility in King County

LEED certified health care facility in King County

Not only are the new sustainable facilities LEED certified buildings save an average of between 20-30% of annual energy usage compared to non-LEED buildings. Overtime, the saved expenses from building back more efficiently is balances the extra cost and time incurred. Requiring less energy to than traditional buildings, the revamped King County will be greatly reducing their carbon footprint and global environmental impact.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, The United States Green Building Council published The New Orleans Principles, which outlined guidelines for the cities reconstruction.  One of the ten principles fabricated by the public was to honor the past and build for the future.  To address this principle the LEED Rating System was indicated as a policy for all new construction and reconstruction.  LEED certified buildings in New Orleans, and throughout Louisiana, were built by a range of owners responsible for rebuilding.  Non- profit organizations and individuals own most of the buildings recognized as LEED throughout the region today. However the government (local, state, and federal) tends to own a lot of them as well, many of which are schools.  One of the USGBS’s most recognized projects is that of The Lake Area High School which acts as a model for LEED construction and lifestyles in communities that either choose, or are forced to rebuild.

While the new building standards and placement of hospitals is already remodeling the face and function of King County, the biggest change has been in the form of transportation infrastructure. After the earthquake King County was left with extensive damages to roads and bridges. King County was facing the realization that not only was this system costly to build and maintain as well as inconvenient due to high traffic loads, but in the face of an emergency it is also dangerous.

The extensive damage to infrastructure provided an opportunity to improve and expand the region’s transportation network. A new bus rapid transit system with dedicated bus lanes and convenient routes has changed the face of King County traffic. With fewer cars on the road traffic is only a fraction of what it was prior to the earthquake. Traveling across the county is now much more efficient, sustainable, and inexpensive. .

After implementation of the rapid transit bus system were completed further construction of the county public transportation system was quickly underway. The creation of ultra-efficient bus systems has already changed the face of King County driving traffic and is expected to further increase connectivity and accessibility of the greater King County area as the project continues to be expanded in the future. To continue the revitalization project, light rail trains were next implemented to supplement the bus system and new roads were built to maximize the walkability and bikeability of the city increasing the health and safety of all community members.

Sound transit LINK light rail.

Sound transit LINK light rail.

Light rail restoration and improvement models that King County followed in their recovery and rebuilding came from those used in New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.  The damages experienced by the existing light rail in New Jersey ranged from flooding to wash out and downed trees, but through restoration efforts many were reestablished and improvements were made.  The West Trenton Line replaced missing track, extended its track by 12.8 miles of new second track and installed new and larger parking accommodations.  This led to the efficiency of the transit system by increasing the use of public transit, which decreased the states road congestion and encouraged smart growth.  This reflected the ideal goals for King County’s shift towards dependency on public transportation post-earthquake.

King County is being heralded by many such as the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency as “a model community of future disaster risk reduction excellence.”

Future hazard events will be much easier to manage and react to due to a much more efficient and well-connected King County. More effectively placement of hospitals and facilities will allow help to get where it needs to go without the delays that were problematic after the Seattle Fault quake.

The county is also creating a model for other communities to follow and become greener to reduce climate change factors and other environmental impacts. King County is now a model community demonstrating how of how communities across the country can adapt and become more sustainable.

One of the major obstacles facing King County’s revitalization has been funding limitations. Damages from the earthquake were severe and extensive so repair and rebuilding costs were high for every sector, both public and private. King County was able to find a number of resources.

After the earthquake, many non-profit organizations offered King County help in the form of donations and volunteers. Many groups joined forces to realize their visions of a green and revitalized community which would be resilient in future hazard events as well as great place to live. Various philanthropic groups have helped with fundraising to complete the costly projects. For example, the Jim and Mary Anne Gable Foundation have acted in support of the new green King County.

A spokesperson stated that “We’re helping to make the greater King County area and example for communities across the planet to create a sustainable and healthy future. We are proud to support achieving such an exemplary goal.”

While the strides that are being taken by King County promise a more sustainable future, many question what tradeoffs came with these changes. With a new system of health care centers, schools, and public transportation it is expected that alternative standards of care and development will quickly become the new normal. The city of Seattle now has a new skyline, a new transportation system, and a new way of life.

King County is being regarded as a great example of how to take a disaster scenario and build back better. Now the community is considered to be stronger, healthier, and happier than ever before. A revamped infrastructure system is leading the way to make the dream of a green King County come true with the help of a supportive community. King County looks to create the ideal environment for those who live there, a community of tomorrow, and a prime example of sustainability.  And many believe that they are well on their way to doing so.