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Alaskan Earthquake: Beginning of Understanding Plate Tectonics

Our modern understanding of subduction earthquakes is only 50 years old.

One of the strongest partnerships we have as emergency managers is with the science community. Without them we could not understand the many hazards that we have and what we need to do to prepare for them using mitigation and preparedness measures.

It wasn’t until after the 1964 Alaskan Earthquake that scientists began to understand the relationship between ocean plates and the North American Plate. Read this New York Times story A ’64 Quake Still Reverberates to understand the journey to understanding the subduction zone threat we call Cascadia.

Science has been under attack here in the United States as some sort of voodoo way of getting what you want. When you get a chance to support what science is doing—take time to verbalize that to others and offer thanks for what science is contributing to our profession.


For anyone not alive in 1964, that is a 1959 Chevy in the picture on the right.

Lastly, I believe in seismic mitigation of our roads and bridges.  But, you do need to understand the forces that are at work in an earthquake.  Few bridges will survive the grade separation in this picture.

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.