ENVS 220 Internship
10 May 2004
Walla Walla County Emergency Management
Over the course of the past semester, I have been researching and analyzing the earthquake hazards of Walla Walla County under the guidance of Don Marlatt. As an environmental studies/geology major, I am interested in the geological hazards of the area and their effects. I wanted to intern with the Walla Walla County Emergency Management Division (WWEMD) because the research that it conducts and the services that it provides to the county directly relate to the type of career I would like to have in the future. The employees at Emergency Management prepare analyses of potential hazards in the area and rate them according to the severity of risk and preparedness of the county. They also aim to inform the county of these statistics and lead mitigation efforts.
Before I began this internship, I was not aware that Walla Walla is prone to earthquakes. Its proximity to two faults, the Olympic-Wallowa Lineament and the Hite Fault, puts it in a region of seismic vulnerability. Unfortunately, few people in the county are prepared for such a hazard and structures are not built to withstand the impact of an earthquake. The history of past earthquakes and the potential for future ones is not well publicized.
Considering these factors, I met with my sponsor at WWEMD and we came up with a list of goals and objectives that would benefit the county (seeking information to reduce its risk and educate the public) and me (seeking practical experience related to my major). My main objective was to improve the current earthquake HIVA (Hazard Identification and Vulnerability Analysis). For each hazard, a HIVA is written based on factors affecting vulnerability of the county. In order to improve the earthquake HIVA, I had to research soil liquefaction, magnitude, depth, and probable spreading damage an earthquake would have based on seismic history of the region and local geology. The next phase of my project was to extend this information to determine the preparedness of the county and recovery limitations.
My personal goals for the internship were to experience working with an organization that focuses on environmental issues, to learn what is involved in hazard analysis, and to gain practical experience related to my field of study. I did not want a clerical job typing in data. My internship has been focused around research, interpreting graphs, gathering data, and transforming data onto maps. Although I would have enjoyed an internship that involved fieldwork, the benefits of working for WWEMD and the experience I have gained outweigh this factor. Research and compilation of information is what needs to be done to improve earthquake hazard analysis of the county. This internship has given me the ability to research an environmental and geological hazard that is currently affecting the community. It is satisfying to know that my work could end up helping mitigation efforts.
As can be expected when any new project is adopted, I experienced some logistical difficulties. The employees at WWEMD all work part-time, usually in the mornings. Since I had class every morning, scheduling time to meet with my sponsor was difficult. This was not a huge problem because the work I was involved in could be done individually on campus, and I easily stayed in touch with my sponsor by email.
I spent about three to four hours per week on my internship project. This was usually broken into one-hour chunks throughout the week. Since the project was self-directed, I did not have to coordinate my schedule with anyone else's, and I could choose to work whenever I had time. Although this was convenient, it also proved to be difficult. I had to push myself to devote sufficient time to my internship project each week. Occasionally, work that I needed to do for the internship got pushed back as papers and projects for other classes were assigned. This sometimes made it hard to give my internship the priority it deserved.
In terms of the actual project, I had some difficulties making a map comparing liquefaction, critical facilities, and earthquake intensity. It was easy to find information for these factors, but because some of the data was located in GIS files on the Internet, I had trouble downloading the data and displaying it on campus computers. I eventually found a computer with GIS capability and was able to produce a map that will hopefully be useful in determination of recovery limitations and areas that will be most affected by an earthquake.
Although I would have liked to have been able to make more inferences from the map in order to propose changes to the response plan and estimate the recovery limitations of the county, creating the map and gathering the data took more time than I expected.
Work centered around hazard analysis and mitigation sounds glamorous and exciting. This is not always the case. Fortunately, most geological hazards are rare. Therefore, collecting information about future hazards is primarily done by researching previous ones; not much fieldwork is involved. There is a lot of information that the county can learn about its current earthquake vulnerability based on historical earthquake data and previous studies of economic, seismic, and geographic data.
It is important to have a clear set of objectives that build upon, but do not repeat, the work that previous interns have done. When I initially began my internship, I felt like I was repeating the work that others had already accomplished. But I soon realized that this was a necessary step before I could start making improvements to previous studies and analyses. I had to first gain a background in the area of study by reading everything that was available.
In the future, an extremely beneficial project would be to create a pamphlet or fact sheet that could be distributed to residents of the county about earthquake hazards in the area. This would ideally explain the potential for the hazard, what to do to prepare for an earthquake, and the steps to follow if one occurs. It would also contain information on past earthquakes and the damage that future earthquakes could cause.
A thorough economic analysis of Walla Walla County would also be beneficial. This would involve a study of the types of structures in the county, the capacity of these structures, and their replacement and contents values. Currently, there are no economic estimates detailing the amount of damage that an earthquake would cause with varying levels of intensity. This information is necessary for a full understanding of the earthquake hazard in Walla Walla County and potential recovery limitations.
After doing significant research for my internship, I think that I now have a solid background of knowledge about the history of seismic hazards, nearby faults, severity of earthquakes, and geology of the area. Before I could start making improvements to the HIVA, I had to gain this background.
I have consolidated data from my research and wrote a report that helps describe the earthquake hazard in the area. Since much of the information it contains is not in the HIVA, it could be used to supplement the HIVA, or parts of it could be extracted for pamphlets to inform the public of the earthquake hazard.
I also developed a map that displays PGA data and critical facilities (hospitals, Red Cross stations, fire stations, schools, etc.) in the county. The comparison of critical facilities and magnitude of the hazard is essential to understanding the potential effects (in terms of loss of life and property) and recovery limitations an earthquake would have. The report and the graph will hopefully be used in whole or part by WWEMD for future HIVAs and mitigation efforts.
Walla Walla County Emergency Management