Steely gray clouds hover over the treetops, ferries glide across Puget Sound and traffic moseys along, slowed by the growing stream of commuters. The expected magnitude-9.0 Cascadia earthquake would kick up town-devouring tsunamis on the coast and devastate cities across the Puget Sound region.
But the earthquake starting to roar to life on this hypothetical Friday morning is not the earthquake youa€™ve been hearing about.
The worst-case scenario for Kitsap is an earthquake grinding out of the fault right under our feet. The fact that the last one was more than 1,000 years ago has some scientists and disaster management agencies worried wea€™re due for another 7-pointer. Unlike a Cascadia quake, which would keep its devastating waves a safe distance from Puget Sound, the Seattle Faulta€™s tsunami would send towering waves straight at Kitsapa€™s shores.
Despite advancements in seismic technology, a Seattle Fault earthquake and tsunami would come with no warning.
It would bring death and destruction far greater than anything ever seen in the Puget Sound region.
As the violent shaking begins, a sickening back-and-forth thrusting of the ground knocks people off their feet. FEMA examined local parcel data from Kitsap County and analyzed it along with the shake map and liquefaction data from the state Department of Natural Resources to determine building damage during a 7.2 magnitude earthquake on the Seattle Fault. Drivers struggle to maintain control as vehicles veer right and left before slowing down on pavement that has suddenly buckled. A long rupture appears on the Seattle Fault, pushing land on the south side 20 feet higher than the north side. The unstable soil under downtown Port Orchard turns to jelly, intensifying the shaking and bringing many shops and restaurants crashing down. The tsunami reaches its greatest height a€” 13 feet a€” on the north shore of Dyes Inlet, where many Silverdale businesses and parks are located.
The big wave crashes over, but Dyes and Sinclair inlets trap the wavea€™s energy, producing a powerful back-and-forth sloshing effect.
Large landslides along the shores of Illahee, Brownsville, Seabeck and the west side of Bainbridge trigger several small tsunamis that roll into already bruised and battered shores.
About half of the countya€™s fire stations are not up to current seismic code and suffer serious damage.
Roads out of Bremerton are gridlocked, despite an effort by the Navy and city to coordinate the release of employees. The Agate Pass Bridge, which doesna€™t meet current seismic standards, isna€™t the only bridge to fall. With most ferry terminals out of commission, thousands of Kitsap residents who work in the Seattle area cannot get home.
Located in the Seattle Faulta€™s highest-risk zone, Kitsapa€™s two major hospitals a€” Harrison Medical Center and Naval Hospital Bremerton a€” are hit hard. If still standing, Harrison enters mass casualty mode, clearing emergency departments to receive a flood of new patients. Many patients and medical providers are unable to reach hospitals, blocked by impassible roadways.
With more than 100 fires burning at once and mass casualties all around, firefighters, police officers and medical personnel are unable to deal with a multitude of problems that normally would receive plenty of attention. As the immediate sense of disbelief fades, neighbors begin to help each other, while emergency responders and community leaders come to grips with shortages of food, water and shelter. Much of the earthquakea€™s response will be focused on Seattle and the rest of the highly populated Interstate 5 corridor.
For the many people displaced from their homes, getting conditions back to normal will take time. FEMA, in cooperation with the United States Geological Survey, has modeled the predicted shaking intensity for a 7.2 magnitude earthquake on the Seattle Fault. This scenario of a Seattle Fault 7.2-magnitude earthquake was based on data and analysis done by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the University of Washington Sea Grant. Twenty years ago, scientists learned that a monster earthquake was lurking in the heart of Puget Sound. A shallow rift, later named the Seattle Fault a€” running between Hood Canal and Issaquah a€” had the potential to drop hillsides into bays, move forests into lakes and throw tidal waves across nearly every stretch of shoreline.
The county had small- and medium-sized ports, a variety of potential earthquake hazards, and an apparent interest in preparing for such a catastrophe a€” all of which was a good match for the team of government and university scientists searching for a place to test the first comprehensive Seattle Fault earthquake scenario.
Earthquake experts are particularly concerned about how the high concentrations of workers at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard will be affected by a major earthquake and tsunami. Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton is particularly vulnerable to a tsunami, which could be hit with 7-foot-high waves. The report came with nearly 200 large- and small-scope recommendations for earthquake and tsunami preparedness. The Kitsap County Department of Emergency Management (DEM) a€” the county’s lead disaster preparedness, response and recovery agency a€” was saddled with the biggest burden. But, of the two dozen recommendations citing DEM as the sole responsible agency, only about half have been met over the past decade, according to DEM’s current director, Mike Gordon. Following the report’s recommendations, DEM has developed agreements to use schools and other facilities as shelters and temporary health care sites. DEM does not, as the report recommended, maintain a roster of the county’s doctors, nurses and other emergency health care workers.
Gordon said DEM hasn’t invested in additional portable radio repeaters, which can improve communication when phone lines and cell services are down, according to the report.
The downtown Bremerton library will be a total loss if the Puget Sound region is hit with an expected magnitude 7 Seattle Fault earthquake, according to FEMA.
Several recommendations for DEM to develop a public tsunami warning program have gone unheeded. He admitted tsunami signs could be particularly useful for tourists and new and temporary residents, such as members of the Navy. A recommendation to map alternative water routes between key locations in Kitsap hasn’t been realized, but Gordon said a program initiated on Bainbridge Island could serve a similar purpose if applied to the rest of Kitsap. The report took aim at the county’s fire departments, urging them to upgrade buildings, protect their vehicles and take a more active role in preparing communities for earthquake hazards.
A decade after the report, more than half of the staffed fire stations in Kitsap do not meet current seismic standards and could be at risk of collapse. Bainbridge Island Fire Department’s Bucklin Hill Road fire station is one of two on the island that do not meet current earthquake standards. North Kitsap Fire and Rescue has the most earthquake-ready buildings, with three of its four staffed stations meeting current standards. Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue did not respond to repeated requests to discuss earthquake preparedness.

Building or improving stations for earthquake readiness is expensive and usually requires a voter-approved bond. Understanding that few fire departments could afford to replace or upgrade all below-standard stations, the report’s authors recommended that all departments require that at least one emergency response vehicle remain outside at all times.
The downtown Bremerton post office topped a list of Bremerton buildings that are at risk from earthquake damage.
Following the report’s recommendations, most Kitsap fire departments have established alternative response routes to cope with bridge and road damage. An earthquake-triggered tsunami could snap the USS Turner Joy from its moorings and turn it into a veritable battering ram, inflicting heavy damage to the Bremerton waterfront, according to a 2005 earthquake assessment by Washington Sea Grant.
No departments have developed robust programs to educate the public about wildfire risks posed by residential landscaping, as was urged by the report. Also not undertaken was a recommended policy of requiring firefighters and emergency medical technicians to store emergency equipment in their homes or vehicles.
South Kitsap Fire Chief Steven Wright said the county’s fire departments are going to be overwhelmed regardless of how well-prepared they are. Fire departments will focus their attention on critical infrastructure and clearing routes to hospitals. Kitsap residents will be required to help themselves and their neighbors, the fire chiefs said.
If the 2005 report did little to spur the county’s leaders into action, perhaps a new one will do the trick.
Gorsta€™s low elevation and location at the head of Sinclair Inlet make it particularly susceptible to wave inundation during a Seattle Fault earthquake. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is nearing completion of a Seattle Fault earthquake risk assessment for the county.
Basically, there’s nothing that coastal towns like Long Beach and Hoquiam can do to avoid being swept off the map. A new early-warning system, could deliver emergency alerts to thousands of cellphones before the shaking begins. Under current conditions, Kitsap will suffer an estimated 155 deaths and more than 2,300 injuries in a 7.2-magnitude Seattle Fault earthquake, according to the assessment. Countywide, about 155 schools, 93 medical facilities and 19 fire stations are expected to suffer substantial damage. Port Orchard will be one of the hardest-hit parts of the county during a Seattle Fault earthquake, according to two studies. If a liquefying downtown weren’t enough, Port Orchard also will be a prime tsunami target. The Kitsap County Public Works building on Austin Avenue and Cedar Heights Junior High School on Lippert Drive were noted as two significant buildings that would be largely destroyed by an earthquake. Starting this month, FEMA officials will begin presenting its findings first with city and county planners and engineers and then with elected officials. Actions could range from making priority lists for building retrofits to development limits and buyout programs for properties in landslide areas. Warnings about a major earthquake rumbling up from the Cascadia Subduction Zone have been everywhere a€” magazine articles, reports on the evening news, even an entire book.
Starting from Seattlea€™s eastern suburbs, the 43-mile-long Seattle Fault runs under Puget Sound and across south Bainbridge, East Bremerton and Central Kitsap before slipping under Hood Canal. The University of Washington has been studying the potential impact for more than a decade, and the Federal Emergency Management Administration just completed a detailed risk assessment for Kitsap. FEMA estimates that an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 or greater could kill 155 people in Kitsap County if it hit during the school and work day. The damage is expressed as loss ratio, dividing the dollar loss of each building by its value. There are uncertainties inherent in any loss estimation technique; therefore, there may be significant differences between the modeled results and actual losses following a specific earthquake. This jagged line happens to cross through or near Kitsapa€™s most populated areas a€” Bremerton, Port Orchard and Silverdale a€” but no area of Puget Sound escapes entirely.
The same phenomenon of ground liquefaction happens in Gorst, south Bainbridge, around Kitsap Lake and across East Bremerton. Boats and docks, pilings and busted bits from waterfront homes are slammed back into the shore. The earthquake triggers thousands of landslides throughout the region with damage or destruction to homes located above and below slopes. Firetrucks and ambulances are trapped in garages, and several firefighters are injured or cannot access the gear they need.
They have been drilled in earthquake response, and their teachers keep supplies on hand for emergencies, but only a small percentage of school buildings were built or retrofitted to current seismic codes, leaving the rest vulnerable to shaking. In the aftermath of the earthquake, tens of thousands of people scramble to get home or locate loved ones, adding to the chaos.
About half of the highway system in Kitsap would be functional after the quake, according to the FEMA report.
Seattlea€™s Colman Dock is awaiting a multimillion dollar renovation, largely because it would probably suffer severe damage if rattled by a Seattle Fault earthquake.
But local emergency services are overwhelmed, and outside help cannot mobilize quickly enough to join rescue efforts. Injuries caused by a large Seattle Fault quake overwhelm the capacity for hospitals to treat victims. Disrupted supply routes, broken water lines and damaged buildings create problems lasting for months. Kitsap a€” a peninsula that would be an island if not for a stem of land near Belfair a€” will have fewer bridges and ferries connecting it to the rest of the region. Ongoing aftershocks will rattle the nerves of most everyone, and some people will suffer post-disaster stress.
This shake map was used to estimate damage to buildings and infrastructure in Kitsap County during such a quake as well as the loss of life and injuries. That’s exactly what happened about 1,100 years ago a€” the last time the fault roared to life. Geological Survey and the state Department of Natural Resources, as well as consultations with the Kitsap County Department of Emergency Management, Port of Bremerton, city of Port Orchard, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and several other local governments, agencies and businesses. In short, it found that a Seattle Fault earthquake with a magnitude greater than 7 would be nothing less than devastating.
Mann, now retired, remembers there was little in the report her small organization a€” which still has fewer than five full-time employees a€” could tackle.
DEM moved there, too, abandoning an old house where countywide emergency communications were confined to a kitchen table. It has continued to bolster its emergency preparedness programs for neighborhoods, schools and businesses.

The roster could prove especially useful after a tsunami because many of the county’s doctors and other highly paid medical professionals live on waterfront properties vulnerable to slides, flooding and large waves. The budget has increased only slightly over the years to keep up with rising employee health care costs and cost-of-living increases.
The warnings might make sense in marinas and in downtown Bremerton and Port Orchard, as the report recommends. Stations that meet current standards were either built during the past 15 years or were retrofitted for seismic safety.
At the bottom is the Poulsbo Fire Department, which has no stations that meet current standards. In February, Bainbridge fire passed a $16 million bond to replace its south island station and its headquarters north of Winslow. The policy would ensure that several firetrucks in the county would avoid becoming trapped or damaged by collapsing stations. FEMA estimates that the building will be a near-total loss after a strong Seattle Fault earthquake. The chiefs of the Central Kitsap and Poulsbo departments did not respond to several requests for comment. They’ve developed resource allocation plans, identified high-need facilities, such as schools and nursing homes, and enhanced volunteer dispatch systems. While not required, maintaining personal emergency preparedness gear and supplies is strongly encouraged by every department. Experts predict Gorst could become a transportation choke point, with floodwaters, two damaged overpasses and a collapsed train trestle blocking highways 3 and 16.
The bulk of the work already is done, including a comprehensive computer modeling process that has formulated a range of estimates, including casualty numbers and building losses. Both coastal counties will be devastated by a tsunami produced under an earthquake scenario. About 45 percent of building value in the city will be lost by a 7.2-magnitude Seattle Fault quake. Both communities have a high percentage of buildings in areas where ground liquefaction is likely. Shaking will trigger landslides on the south side of town while the ground between Bay Street and the waterfront will turn to a slurry-like liquid, intensifying damage to buildings. The island has 177 buildings in landslide zones that could suffer $55 million worth of damage.
Information from the military was not included, and building data from the Port Gamble S’Klallam Indian Reservation was not available. The USS Turner Joy becomes a battering ram, taking out the Bremerton Marina and banging into the legs of the Manette Bridge.
Homes built on fill or sand spits fall apart or tip at an angle, as the ground below them liquefies from extended shaking. Locating survivors buried in the rubble becomes a top priority, as medical personnel scramble to find injured people and try to move them to safety along broken roads.
Harrisona€™s two campuses and the naval hospital have a combined 380 general hospital beds, many of which were occupied before the earthquake. Eight clinics in Kitsap have received training to help bolster the countya€™s medical response during a disaster. Many schools that would have been converted to emergency shelters were destroyed or are unsafe.
Financial problems will be serious for many families affected by the earthquake, especially those without special earthquake insurance. Scientists determined that the next big Seattle Fault quake and resulting tsunami could come anytime, but the next go-round would involve towns and cities, highways and bridges, and about 3 million terrified people. DEM and other organizations balked at the high costs associated with many of the recommendations, she said. It provides workshops on low-cost earthquake mitigation techniques and has established classes on structural retrofits that help buildings withstand earthquakes. New programs or large-scale spending plans are typically paid for with project-specific grants. DEM lacks the authority to carry out the recommended integration of local marine resources, such as Navy tug boats and commercial supply ships, into the county’s emergency management network. The Bainbridge and Bremerton fire departments each have one station that meets standards and two that do not. Most departments have followed through with recommendations to improve training courses for residents and businesses, although training opportunities at most departments are limited to fire extinguisher usage. But the rural sections of the county could face fast-spreading wildfires if a large earthquake ruptures gas lines or propane tanks during the dry summer months.
It could take days or weeks before first responders can handle all of the county’s emergencies.
Other infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and overpasses, and various utilities like power lines and sewer pipes, were not included in the cost analysis. A few buildings named in the assessment as likely losses are Bremerton High School, the downtown library and post office, and the Kitsap Way fire station. The south and north shores of Dyes Inlet, including the Silverdale waterfront, might be hit with even higher waves. It crashes into walls, splashes over rooftops and floods many low-lying areas like Gorst, Port Orchard, Manchester and Bremertona€™s shipyard. FEMA predicts a Seattle Fault quake could injure 400 to 500 people badly enough to require hospitalization. Children will need to be transferred from damaged schools, requiring double-shifting of classes at new locations. The ground would liquefy under downtown Port Orchard and Bainbridge Island’s Lynwood Center. Keeping trees and other combustibles a safe distance from homes is one measure that could greatly reduce risk to many Kitsap homes, according to the report. Other bridges and overpasses might remain standing, but theya€™re so damaged that vehicles cana€™t cross. Ferry terminals in Bremerton, Port Orchard and Winslow are crippled by shaking and pounding waves.
The floor of Sinclair Inlet might rise, snagging the bottoms of the few ferries still in operation. Fire stations would crumble, hampering the response to widespread fires, floods, landslides and a potentially overwhelming number of resulting injuries and deaths.

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