At a recent fair on Rucker Avenue in Everett, people lined up to ride the Big Shaker.
It was no heart-pumping, bloodcurdling-screams carnival ride.
But the real thing would be.
What’s up with that?
The Big Shaker is an earthquake simulator in a 24-foot trailer that replicates a typical living room with sofas and shelves with a TV and doodads.
During the ride, books and dishes toppled to the ground. Riders bounced on the couch like happy children.
The Big Shaker was at a free earthquake preparedness event with food trucks and radio station deejays.
If there is such a thing as a festive side to earthquakes, this was it.
At the fair, sponsored by Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management and the Everett Clinic, there were more laughs than screams in the Big Shaker that mimicked a magnitude 8 quake for a few seconds.
The unexpected hydraulics-induced rumble gave a quick rattle to riders.
It was a jolt, for sure, but not the Big One that will rupture water lines, tumble buildings, destroy bridges and split roads.
Not yet, baby. Not yet.
Experts say it’s not a matter of “if” — it’s “when” — a catastrophic earthquake will rumble Snohomish County, causing massive destruction and loss of lives. Fault lines are under our feet, ready to erupt without warning. Small quakes happen often, but you wouldn’t know it unless you’re a seismology geek hooked on daily updates from earthquake.usgs.gov.
But for a major quake, will you be ready?
Earthquake education is key. Nagging people about it doesn’t do much good. Neither does scaring the hell out of them. OK, well maybe it does, if you do it right.
Like adding music, food and the Big Shaker.
“We are trying to get people aware of the earthquake hazards, and understanding how bad earthquakes are,” said county emergency management director Jason Biermann, as Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” played in the background from the radio booth.
The population of our county has increased by about 25 percent — 200,000 people — since 2001, when Nisqually, a magnitude 6.8 earthquake, shook our region.
The Big Shaker “gives you a little bit of that experience,” Biermann said. “That shaking they feel here for just a few seconds will be 5 or 6 minutes if we have a really long earthquake.”
In other words, no bouncing happily on the couch.
In a real quake, the trailer would be skipping across the parking lot.
The Big Shaker was a hit with fair-goers.
“It was fun,” said Lillie Bernard, a clinic lab worker who lived in California. “I’ve been in a lot of earthquakes. I get to enjoy one that isn’t going to hurt me.”
Tom Halsted was in an aftershock of the 6.7 Northridge earthquake of 1994 in California.
“I just remember all the dishes flying off the wall,” said Halsted, who works at the PUD. “It sounded like trash trucks mating in the alley.”
The Big Shaker travels to events around the West Coast. The California-based company is an affiliate of Ready America, which makes disaster readiness supplies, outdoor survival kits and QuakeHOLD! seismic safety products (available at a store near you).
“It is pretty popular and they do a road show,” said Michelle Boll, county emergency management program manager. “It gets people dialed in.”
Boll hopes to bring the ride to the Evergreen State Fair in 2020.
About 450 people attended the 3-hour event on a drizzly Friday in the Everett parking lot by Addicted Coffee. Some waited 40 minutes for a free spin in the Big Shaker, which included a safety demo.
In addition to tangy pulled pork and warm pretzels, booths at the fair served up information and free items such as ponchos, flashlights and water packs for emergency kits. Earthquakes aren’t our only disaster waiting to happen. Also on the list: severe weather, flooding, landslides, tsunamis and volcanoes.
People should plan to be on their own for two weeks after a major earthquake.
No running to Costco for a rotisserie chicken or case of water.
Have a readiness plan with family members. Pick main and backup places to meet.
Build a kit with food, water, batteries, medical items, toiletries, important documents. Don’t forget to include pet and baby supplies. Keep a basic kit in the car.
Get in the habit of keeping your phone charged.
Secure water heaters, gas appliances and bookcases to prevent toppling.
Know what to do when the ground starts quaking: Drop down. Take cover under a desk or table. Hold on. Stay away from windows.
For more information, maps and resources: www.snohomishcountywa.gov/180/Emergency-Management