Anniversary of Nisqually quake reminds us of importance of preparation

Nisqually earthquake debris in Olympia
The 2001 Nisqually Earthquake caused a building debris to fall into the street of downtown Olympia. Make sure you’re prepared for a natural disaster. Photo: Joe Dragovich/DNR.

Fourteen years ago today, an earthquake from deep under Anderson Island shook much of western Washington at 10:54 a.m.

Measuring a magnitude of 6.8, the Nisqually quake stemmed from the Benioff zone, meaning it came from deep underground (more than 32 miles underground.) The epicenter, next to the Nisqually River delta, was the same location as a magnitude 7.1 earthquake that struck April 29, 1945.

While the depth of the epicenter meant much of its force was buffered by layers of earth, the 2001 quake still injured 400 people and caused roughly $2 billion in damages.

Led to preparedness

On a brighter side, the Nisqaully quake touched off a wave of increased attention in earthquake science and emergency preparedness.

In the last 14 years, the number of seismic monitors has more than tripled across the northwest ; GPS units have been deployed for faster earthquake detection; mapping efforts have been boosted by the use of LiDAR, which has led to the detection of new faults in the Puget Sound area.


DNR worked with the Washington Emergency Managment Division and federal agencies to publish estimates of the potential losses from a magnitude 7.2 earthquake on the Nisqually fault zone. The fault runs beneath Pierce and Thurston counties but 15 other counties would feel this impact, including King County, which would suffer significant damage along with Pierce and Thurston counties.

Download the report, “Modeling a Magnitude 7.2 Earthquake on the Nisqually Fault Zone near Olympia.” We hope you’ll come away with a strong resolve to be prepared for a disaster after reading the report.

Since the Federal Emergency Management ranks Washington state behind only California for risk of economic losses from earthquakes, it’s important to make those extra efforts to be prepared.

When an earthquake happens, there will not be time to Google what you are supposed to do (Drop! Cover! Hold On!). After the earthquake, the internet might not work at all.

The Washington Emergency Managment Division has a number of excellent resources available, including preparedness brochures and what to pack in a 72-hour kit. You can also work with your neighbors to draw up plans to make your community for disaster-ready.

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