Sitting at the convergence of the North America and Juan de Fuca tectonic plates, Washington is subject to more than 1,000 earthquakes each year.
While most of these are barely detectible, there have been at least 20 damaging earthquakes recorded in our state’s 125 years. Large earthquakes in 1946, 1949, and 1965 killed 15 people and caused more than $200 million (1984 dollars) in property damage.
Though you can’t predict or stop an earthquake, you can be prepared.
At that time, “drop, cover and hold on.” That means drop to the ground, take cover under a desk or table and hold on until the “earthquake” stops.
Be sure to hold on throughout the duration of the earthquake drill. The state’s most recent major earthquake—the Nisqually earthquake—measured a magnitude 6.8 and lasted for more than 40 seconds, causing over $1 billion damage.
“Drop, cover and hold on” is the most effective way to protect yourself from collapsing walls, flying glass and falling debris, which are the primary causes of earthquake-related injuries, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Also, make sure you have an emergency kit prepared to ensure you have water, food, light, first aid supplies, batteries, cash, etc.
There have been six earthquakes with measured or estimated magnitudes of 6.0 or larger in the Puget Sound basin since 1870.
There are numerous earthquake faults in Washington state but one of the most dangerous is the Cascadia Subduction, caused by the convergence of the North America plate and the Juan de Fuca plate, which are moving toward each other at about 3 to 4 centimeters per year. The strain builds up between the converging plates and eventually causes a massive earthquake.
DNR geologists closely watch those forces. To find out more information, visit the DNR Division of Geology and Earth Science’s page about earthquakes where you can find information about Washington’s relationship to tectonic plates, a scenario about what would happen from a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, and links to more resources.
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