SEATTLE—Every day tens of thousands of people go to work in buildings in downtown Seattle and they know the big one could hit while they're inside.
Megan Knox works on the 68th floor.
She says, "Obviously with the earthquakes that have happened recently in Haiti and everything it makes you a little nervous about what could happen but I'm hoping that are standards are a little bit higher I guess. I hope it was created securely and I know it's more secure than the condo I live in."
Abe Bender works on the 40th floor. He says, "Seems like a quake like that they had in Chile' or Haiti would be a lot worse It would certainly scare me from coming back to my office building."
An Op Ed in the New York Times this weekend makes them feel even worse.
Structural engineer and earthquake expert Peter Yanev wrote:
"Pacific Northwest cities are full of buildings with slender structural frames and fewer and smaller shear walls. In a megaquake, many of the region's iconic tall buildings would probably collapse."
Yanev arrived at that opinion after studying last month's earthquake in Chile.
Both areas share a similar subduction zone where two tectonic plates come together and can cause megaquakes.
Both also have modern building codes, modern but different.
Chilean building requires thick concrete walls to make the structure very rigid to hopefully withstand the shaking.
In Seattle, building are constructed to go with the flow.
Brian Stevens with the Seattle Department Of Planning And Development says, "There might be some structural damage to the building. It really depends on the type of quake we see and the duration of the quake but the code is set up so that the building actually moves with the quake so the forces are spread out throughout the building and folks inside can exit safely with minimal damage to the building."
That's the good news, and UW seismologist Bill Steele agrees, but he says there is bad news too.
Steele says, "The long duration of shaking that a subduction zone earthquake will produce will challenge a lot of our larger structures because it's very rich in long period energy that tends to excite bigger structures whether or not many buildings collapse I think we do face the chance of severe economic losses that will impact our area for a very long time."
The good news is Seattle's building code is updated on a regular basis. Every time there is a major quake anywhere in the world scientists study it to see what can be learned and what needs to changed to strengthen our building code. Those updates happen about every three years.