Remembering the 1964 earthquake, preparing for tomorrow

  • By John Madden
  • Wednesday, March 26, 2014 9:05pm
  • Opinion

Today, Alaska will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the magnitude 9.2 earthquake that shook the state at 5:36 p.m., March 27, 1964. In less than five minutes it damaged more than 50,000 square miles of land and caused an estimated $300 to $400 million (worth $2.5 billion today) in property damage. A total of 131 people died from the quake and the resulting tsunami. The 1964 Great Alaska Earthquake is the largest earthquake ever recorded in North America, and its impact on our state still resonates today.

In honor of this 50th anniversary, individuals and groups across the state will Drop, Cover, Hold On in the Great Alaska ShakeOut, March 27 at 1:36 p.m. We hope to register 100,000 Alaskans to participate. Alaska experiences more than 12,000 earthquakes each year, so it’s not a matter of IF we will experience another large quake, but of WHEN. Be part of this record-setting event and sign up your family, workplace, school group, or other organization to participate in the Great Alaska ShakeOut at

I invite every Alaskan to pause, reflect, and remember the 1964 earthquake. A commemorative event will be held at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center March 27 from 5-7 p.m. The event will bring community leaders and survivors of the 1964 earthquake together to recall the devastation of the quake and the resiliency that Alaskans displayed. At exactly 5:36 p.m. participants will observe four minutes and 38 seconds of silence, the same duration of the 1964 quake, while viewing historical footage of the earthquake. The ceremony will include firsthand survivor accounts followed by a lecture on the effects of the earthquake by a geological hazard expert with the U.S. Geological Survey.

From April 11-September 14, 2014, the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson will continue to host a special exhibit entitled “Riskland: Remembering the 1964 Earthquake.” This exhibit examines the science and history of the 1964 event. It includes compelling firsthand accounts, the reconstruction efforts, and Alaska’s earthquake preparedness today. I strongly encourage all Alaskans and visitors to view the exhibit and increase their knowledge about earthquake science past and present.

Firsthand accounts provide the best insight into how communities persevere when faced with the unpredictable, destructive power of earthquakes. If you experienced the 1964 quake and want to share your story or photos, visit

It is my hope that the anniversary of this devastating event raises awareness and preparedness across the state. While the impact of the 1964 earthquake was devastating, Alaska’s low population density at the time resulted in a relatively low numbers of fatalities. Since then, our population has since grown by 300 percent, and Alaskans are now much more dependent on the delivery of goods, services, and technology. During the next catastrophic event, needs will likely overwhelm available resources. Alaskans must be personally prepared. This includes building an emergency kit, having a family communication plan, and informing yourself of the risks associated with the hazards we face. The diversity of Alaska’s communities and families requires that each family considers its own circumstances when preparing for a catastrophic event.

I invite individuals and families to use this commemoration to prepare themselves. Local, state, federal, and non-governmental partners will conduct a readiness exercise, at the State Emergency Operation Center on JBER and the Egan Civic & Convention Center in Anchorage, March 27 through April 2. The thirteen communities of Anchorage, the Mat-Su Borough, Kenai Peninsula, Seward, Cordova, Valdez, Kodiak, Homer, Ketchikan, Juneau, Fort Greely, Unalaska and Fairbanks/North Pole will participate in the exercise. The purpose of the exercise is to test the ability of local, state, and federal agencies to respond to a catastrophic event with the aid of private sector and volunteer organizations.

Working together, we will improve our readiness for the next disaster. The true test of our Alaska spirit may be just one catastrophic earthquake away. Are you ready?

John W. Madden is Director of the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. He is a past president of the National Emergency Management Association and serves on the Governors Homeland Security Advisors Council.

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