Olympia, WA -- When the 6.8 Nisqually Earthquake struck the Puget Sound Region on Feb. 28, Mercer Island was spared from catastrophic flooding. Situated on a hill above the picturesque city, two steel reservoir tanks hold eight million gallons of water, four million each.
"If the tanks had collapsed during the earthquake, twelve homes, schools, a church and several public buildings situated directly beneath the reservoir would have been flooded," said Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Mitigation Specialist Diane Earl. "It would have been a scene straight out of a disaster movie, where one natural calamity follows another. The deluge could have covered I-90 Bridge, the main transportation corridor and the Island would have lost its sole water facility used for fire fighting and drinking water.
The City of Mercer Island avoided dual disasters, however, when it applied to the State of Washington Emergency Management Division and was granted funding though FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) for seismic retrofitting of the reservoirs and pump station in January of 1999. The project was completed a little more than a year later in March of 2000.
According to Earl, when the earthquake hit, Mercer Island sustained a tremendous amount of shaking. A maintenance worker located at the reservoirs stated that the water in the tanks "sloshed for an hour." The water tanks rode through the earthquake with minimal to no damage and performed the way the retrofit was designed. Power went out throughout the Island but the automatic generator came on line and maintained the function of the pumps.
An inspection following the earthquake determined that there is no threat of collapse. The timely mitigation project eliminated danger to lives, homes and structures, as well as protecting the Island's water supply.
According to Earl, the seismic retrofitting of the tanks totaled $1.3 million but saved the community and taxpayers approximately $9 million in potential damage.
"Earthquakes are a fact of life in the Pacific Northwest, so take preparedness and mitigation steps to get ready before another earthquake strikes," said City Emergency Management Coordinator Dee Totten. "Knowing what to do before, during, and after an emergency or disaster occurs will increase your own personal comfort and is key to surviving." Local emergency managers are available to help you learn how.
The HMGP may be used to fund projects to protect either public or private property, so long as the projects in question fit within the State and local government's overall mitigation strategy for the disaster area, comply with program guidelines and there is a public benefit. Examples of projects that may be funded include the acquisition or relocation of structures from hazard-prone areas and the retrofitting of existing structures to protect them from future damages.
Eligibility for funding under the HMGP is limited to State and local governments, certain private non-profit organizations or institutions that serve a public function with critical facilities, Indian tribes, authorized tribal organizations, or recognized Special Purpose Districts.
In order to apply for HMGP project funding, applicants must work through their State, since the State is responsible for setting priorities for funding and administering the program.
For more information about the hazard mitigation grant process, contact Lori Hergert, state mitigation program coordinator, at 1-253-512-7475. Information and forms for the hazard mitigation grants also may be found at the Washington Emergency Management Division website