In her 2015 article, “The Really Big One”, published in The New Yorker, Kathryn Schulz provides the fascinating background of the newly discovered fault-line that puts the San Andreas Fault, and all other known faults, to shame.  This fault is called the “Cascadia Subduction Zone” and tsunamis it has created have devastated both the Pacific Northwest and coastal areas of Japan every few hundred years.

According to Schulz’s research, the Cascadia Subduction Zone is just located 700 miles off the coast and a triggered earthquake and tsunami will directly impact forty-thousand square miles of the Pacific Northwest with rippling effects throughout the U.S. Based on the last known event, the geological clock is practically up and the region is due for another earthquake and tsunami.


This recently realized threat poses a real risk of high loss of life and devastating damage for the coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest. In emergency preparedness terms, it presents an extreme hazard; especially for Ocosta Elementary and Junior/Senior High School in Grays Harbor County, WA, that sit next to each other on a highly vulnerable peninsula jutting into the Pacific Ocean.

This discovery created a new and potentially devastating hazard and the need to Get Before “X.” Imagine a timeline and place an “X” in the center representing an emergency – like a tsunami.  Everything after “X” is response and everything before “X” is our opportunity to prevent or at least mitigates its impact.

Before X Gif

Obviously, preventing a tsunami is not an option, but preparedness is more than prevention and response. This “Getting Before “X” mindset is why emergency management realized the solution of simply evacuating to avoid a tsunami is not a viable option because the only evacuation route utilizes a bridge on Highway 105 that would likely be damaged by the earthquake that creates the tsunami.

The solution is the nation’s first vertical tsunami refuge.  The project called “Project Safe Haven” is based in collaboration between the University of Washington, local state and federal emergency management, the school district, and the voters who approved funding for the construction.

Thousands of people live by the Highway 105 Bridge and travel over it every day, but recognizing the bridge would likely be damaged when it is most needed, is a perfect example of Getting Before “X” and protecting good people from bad things.