Earthquake simulator to bring jolt of awareness to Southeast and Yukon

Alaska is earthquake country. But many people don’t know the basic safety measures they should take to prepare for an earthquake. The Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management wants to change that. The Division hopes to jolt people into awareness with a mobile earthquake simulator. The ‘Quake Cottage’ is scheduled to visit ten communities in Southeast Alaska and the Yukon for the first time ever this fall.

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The Alaska Earthquake Simulator in October 2015. (Photo by Sgt. Marisa Lindsay/ADHS Facebook)
The Alaska Earthquake Simulator in October 2015. (Photo by Sgt. Marisa Lindsay/ADHS Facebook)

From a distance, the Quake Cottage looks like a normal enclosed trailer you hook up to the back of a truck. But get closer, and you see the words: ‘Alaska’s Earthquake Simulator: Are you ready for the next big quake?’ Step inside and an automated voice tells you, “This is not a ride, it is an experience.”

The Quake Cottage holds four people. You sit down and hold on tight as the shaking starts. Jeremy Zidek with Alaska Homeland Security said the machine can simulate up to an 8.0 magnitude earthquake.

“The earthquake simulator is an experience we want people here in Alaska to feel because earthquakes are so prevalent here in Alaska,” Zidek said. “We have about 11 percent of the world’s earthquakes.”

Alaska is the most seismically active region in the U.S., and even one of the most seismically active in the world. According to the Alaska Earthquake Center, there have been more than 22,000 quakes in the state so far this year. Most of those are minor. But Zidek said his agency wants you to be prepared for the next big one.

“The danger of earthquakes here in Alaska is very real,” Zidek said.

That’s why Alaska Homeland Security owns one of a few Quake Cottages in existence. It’s a prevention tool, meant to bring home the reality of what an earthquake feels like, and that it could happen to you.

“The experience is a little bit jarring,” Zidek said. “But that’s what the earthquake is, an earthquake can be a very violent event. And people should know what to do when that shaking starts.”

CNN anchor Anderson Cooper had a jarring experience when he tried out one of the Quake Cottages in 2012.

Zidek said the best earthquake safety advice for people in the U.S. is ‘drop, cover and hold.’ Get on the ground, find cover from falling objects, and hold on while you wait the earthquake out.

“It’s more of the turtle philosophy as opposed to the rabbit philosophy,” Zidek said. “You really can’t run from the earthquake anyways. If you run outside there’s just as many falling hazards that can hurt you there and there’s a good likelihood you’re gonna be thrown to the ground.”

The Earthquake Simulator. (ADHS Facebook)
The Earthquake Simulator. (ADHS Facebook)

Zidek said people in Southeast Alaska have been asking for the Quake Cottage for years. The Division hasn’t been able to bring the simulator to any off-the-road communities because it’s an expensive endeavor. But this fall, it’s finally going to happen with the help of grant funding.

“In Southeast, people are vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis, so they need to know what to do when they feel that shaking,” Zidek said.

One of the Southeast residents pushing for the simulator to visit this region is Brian Templin of Craig.

“Because of our location on the coast and the threat of earthquakes, it’s one of those things that we’ve been very fortunate [so far] but you certainly want to be prepared,” Templin said.

Templin is involved in Craig’s emergency planning committee. He said the simulator’s visit will coincide with the town’s biennial Emergency Preparedness Fair.

The Quake Cottage tour of the Yukon of and Southeast is scheduled to start in Whitehorse August 26 and travel to Skagway, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg, Wrangell, Ketchikan, Craig, Haines and Haines Junction – in that order.

Approximate dates for the Quake Cottage’s visits to the Lynn Canal are Aug. 28 for Skagway and Sept. 26 for Haines.

Zidek hopes the month-long tour will help Southeast Alaskans be prepared for when the next major earthquake strikes.

“We’re happy we can bring [the simulator] to this audience of seismically vulnerable Alaskans that haven’t experienced it before,” Zidek said.

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Emily Files is a reporter at KHNS in Haines.

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