Sunday, 13 March 2011

Sarah Palin, earthquakes and building codes

Sarah Palin's tweet about the earthquake and ensuing tsunami in Japan prompted me to look into another major disaster.

In 1964, the year Sarah Palin was born, the largest quake ever recorded in the United States struck Southcentral Alaska. The Good Friday quake, registered at magnitude 9.2, caused a huge tsunami, and both resulted in massive destruction all down the West Coast. Various sources indicate that about 131 people died as a result of the earthquake: nine during the earthquake itself, 106 from subsequent tsunamis in Alaska and 16 from tsunamis in Oregon and California. Property damage was estimated at over $310 million ($2.12 billion in current U.S. dollars).

The epicenter of the earthquake was 78 miles east of Anchorage, Alaska.

Dozens of earthquakes are recorded in Alaska every day – more than in the other 49 states combined – though most go unnoticed.



Prince Wiliam Sound


Todd Palin told Fox News that he built the two-story, 3,450-square-foot, four-bedroom, four-bath, wood house himself, with the help of contractors he described as "buddies." As mayor, Sarah Palin blocked an effort to require the filing of building permits in the wide-open city, and there is no public record of who the "buddies" were.

Sarah Palin's house, Wasilla

Before constructing a building, a developer or construction firm must obtain a permit from the city. Inspectors often go to work sites and buildings and ensure that they are built in adherence with these codes.

Builders in Alaska are asked to install various components on buildings that help mitigate earthquake damage, including steel braces and plywood shear walls. The shear walls are often held in place by holdowns, metallic pieces that connect the bottom of the shear wall to the ground.

Wasilla is located about 50 miles from Anchorage, where the frequent earthquakes are also felt. If Sarah Palin's house was built by Todd's buddies without building permits, was it inspected to ensure the construction adhered to the codes? In the event of a larger tremor, if her house collapses, who would be held responsible if the structure didn't conform to the codes?

Were these buddies properly qualified contractors?

Does it sound sensible for a mayor to use her powers to prevent certain information being recorded, placing self-interest ahead of her family's safety?

Sarah Palin loves to talk about Alaskan's independent streak, the Last Frontier mentality of not bowing to the rules. She didn't like the rules when she was mayor and disregarded certain factors when she took off her governor's hat to support Pebble mine, near Bristol Bay. If developed, the Pebble mine will be the largest mine in North America, with an approximate footprint of at least 28 square miles. Mining gold and copper, unlike coal, leaves behind a staggering amount of toxic waste, which Pebble proposes to store behind two dams — the largest in the world — in a seismically active area.

Sarah Palin's attitudes could have had dire consequences in the event of a major earthquake in Alaska. The devastation to her own family home and to the richest salmon fishing grounds in the world would have been swift and complete.

Further information about the 1964 earthquake:

Alaska earthquake
Alaska earthquake facts and statistics

Great Alaskan earthquake and tsunami
Pictures of the destrutcion caused by the earthquake