March 01, 2001 11:00 pm

Aside from bricks and shattered glass that needed to be cleaned up on Seattles sidewalks, some structural damage to Washingtons Capitol in Olympia and other buildings, and several minor injuries, the Northwest got by fairly well in Wednesdays 6.8-magnitude earthquake.

Fortunately the quake southwest of Seattle was centered 33 miles underground. If an earthquake of that severity occurred much closer to the surface, the area might have experienced more devastation.

Still, Wednesdays jolt is a reminder that the Northwest is vulnerable to the sudden shifting of the earths plates. The region does not have to wait for 50 to 100 years for the ground to move. In fact, Oregon and Washington have experienced 10 earthquakes of various magnitudes over the past 25 years. Even areas like the Grande Ronde Valley are not immune from the possibility of an earthquake.

Can we do a better job preparing our houses, buildings and public roads, bridges and other infrastructure for an earthquake? Millions of dollars already have been spent in recent years in stabilizing buildings, and that helped the Northwest weather this weeks quake. Additional money must be invested to reduce the effects of the next inevitable major earthquake.

People, too, need to think about how they would behave in an earthquake. The ones who crawled under desks and tables to protect themselves from possible falling debris responded properly. The folks who quickly ran from buildings might have been putting themselves and others at risk. People should consider the age and structural integrity of the building where they work or live. Theyre often better off staying put than moving rapidly outdoors.

People should also look at the valuables perched on mantles and bookshelves in their homes. Can some of that expensive china, glassware or trinkets be better protected from the pulling and swaying of an earthquake? In Saturdays editorial we will list some specific things people should do to be ready for an earthquake.

Wednesdays Puget Sound event shows that more forethought and preparation are needed to reduce a quakes potential horrible effects.

No harm in responding

La Grandes city fire department won the race to the barn fire on N. Cherry Street Wednesday morning. City firefighters arrived before their counterparts from the La Grande Rural Fire Department in Island City could get there.

As it turned out, the fire was actually in the rural fire district, outside La Grandes city limits. It was the rural firefighters responsibility to report first to a fire within their district, and call for mutual aid from La Grande if necessary.

But what was the harm of city firefighters getting to the fire first? Precious minutes, property and lives could be wasted while waiting to decide if a fire is within ones territory. That would not serve the publics interests very well at all.