Less than two weeks ago, Alaska was struck by a major 7.0 magnitude earthquake, which caused extensive damage to Alaskan infrastructure, particularly to its roads. Photos of broken asphalt and slumped sediments brought concern to other parts of the nation, particularly those prone to earthquakes, about their own preparedness levels for the next big earthquake.
Roads are crucial to Alaska because of its sparse population density. Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, has a population of about 300,000 people spread out across 1,700 square miles. In comparison, San Francisco has a population nearly three times as large in an area that is less than one-twentieth the area of Anchorage. As a result of its sparse population density, people need to drive farther to get to their destination and there are fewer alternative routes to redirect traffic if there is a disruption. Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities spokesperson Shannon McCarthy said, “Alaska is different from many states in that in many cases we usually only have one road in and one road out. That’s true with Anchorage. We have one road to the north and one road to the south, so we’re particularly vulnerable if there is a break in the line.”
Perhaps in acknowledgement of the importance and the vulnerability of roads to Alaskan residents and the economy, Alaska was well prepared and ready to start repairing its roads and bridges almost immediately after the quake. Most of the major road damage from the earthquake was repaired in just four days. One of the first repairs was to the off-ramp near the Anchorage airport, with workers on site three hours after the earthquake, completing the repair in about 72-hours of around-the-clock work. Asphalt plants were shut down for the winter because the cold temperatures can solidify the oil while rain and snow can add unwanted moisture; soon after the earthquake, plant owners switched on their heaters such that by the time the Department of Transportation repaired the roadbeds, the asphalt was ready to be laid down.
Another factor credited for their rapid recovery was the recently updated Department of Transportation recovery plans prompted by a truck damaging an underpass last March. That incident caused the shutdown of the southbound lane of the Glenn Highway, the only road north out of the city, for days, also prompting school cancellations and advisories to stay home on the day after the crash.
Although the road repairs are temporary, only in place until the warmer summer months in which more extensive and permanent repairs can take place, the speed of recovery in Anchorage after the disaster is admirable. Within three days of the initial shock, Anchorage had restored power, heating, communication, and water, and within four days, the major roads. Anchorage’s adequate preparation for mitigation and recovery from damages has allowed it to resume normal operations quickly and efficiently. As other west coast areas such as the San Francisco Bay Area in California and Portland, Oregon raise concerns about how a large earthquake might affect their infrastructure and communities, perhaps they should look to “the Anchorage Way” as an example to help build resilience and recover quickly from disaster.
Sources and Further Readings
Anchorage, Alaska Population 2018 – World Population Review
San Francisco, California Population 2018 – World Population Review