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Central & Eastern Washington Earthquake Outreach

Earthquake experts will be in Central and Eastern Washington in late September and early October, conducting a series of public presentations. Learn about earthquake early warning systems, why drop cover and hold on is the best protective action you can take and how earthquake fault lines work. Read our blog on what to expect!

  • Sunday, Sept. 29, 6 p.m. at the Walla Walla County Public Health & Legislative building; 314 W. Main Street, Room 216, Walla Walla, WA. Flyer here.
  • Monday, Sept. 30, noon at Spokane Regional Health District, 1101 W. College Ave., Spokane, WA. Flyer here.
  • Monday, Sept. 30, 6 p.m. at WSU Pullman Campus; Smith CUE Building, Room 203; Pullman, WA. Flyer here.
  • Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2 p.m., Moses Lake City Hall, 401 S. Balsam St., Moses Lake, WA. Flyer here.
  • Wednesday, Oct. 2, 12:30 p.m., Heritage University, 3240 Fort Road, Toppenish, WA. Flyer here. 
  • Wednesday, Oct. 2, 6:30 p.m. at the Richland Public Library; 955 Northgate Dr, Richland, WA  Flyer here.

What's an earthquake?

An earthquake is the sudden release of stored energy. Most earthquakes occur along a fracture within the earth, called a fault. The shaking caused by this sudden shift is often very small, but occasionally large earthquakes produce very strong ground shaking. It is this strong shaking and its consequences – ground failure, landslides, liquefaction – that damages buildings and structures and upsets the regional economy.

Washington, especially the Puget Sound basin, has a history of frequent earthquakes. More than 1,000 earthquakes occur in the state each year. A dozen or more are strong enough that people feel ground shaking. Occasionally, earthquakes cause damage. The state experienced at least 20 damaging events in the last 125 years.

The Nisqually earthquake on February 28, 2001, was a deep, magnitude 6.8 earthquake 10 miles northeast of Olympia. One person died of a heart attack, hundreds were injured, and various estimates place damage at between $500 million and $4 billion. Exact figures are not available, as insurance claims information is not available.

The earthquake threat in Washington is not uniform.

On July 2, 1999, there was a 5.8 earthquake centered in the Satsop area of Grays Harbor County -- although the earthquake was felt a few counties over, most other areas didn't see damage. In Grays Harbor, the damage was estimated at $8.1 million, including repairing and retrofitting its historic courthouse in Montesano.

While most earthquakes occur in Western Washington, some damaging events, such as the 1872 magnitude 6.8 (est.) quake, do occur east of the Cascades. Geologic evidence documents prehistoric magnitude 8 to 9.5 earthquakes along the outer coast, and events of magnitude 7 or greater along shallow crustal faults in the urban areas of Puget Sound.

The Cascadia subduction zone, the fault boundary between the North America plate and the Juan de Fuca plate, lies offshore from northern California to southern British Columbia. The two plates are converging at a rate of about 2 inches per year. In addition, the northward-moving Pacific plate is pushing the Juan de Fuca plate north, causing complex seismic strain to accumulate. The abrupt release of this slowly accumulated strain causes earthquakes.

Seismic Safety in Washington

The Geology Division of the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conducts geologic hazards mapping across the state and works to identify our earthquake threats. In addition, the United States Geological Survey works closely with DNR to provide the most accurate, credible, and up-to-date scientific earthquake information to the public and emergency management community. Their work forms the basis for the implementation of seismic provisions and standards in building codes and other infrastructure protection standards. For additional information about the earthquake hazards in Washington, see the links below:

Earthquake Early Warning Outreach

Earthquake program managers from Washington and Oregon have finished work with hundreds of first responders and emergency management professionals in crafting a new strategy on how to effectively implement earthquake early warning systems when ShakeAlert, the U.S. system, eventually goes public in the Pacific Northwest. The strategy was crafted in coordination with the Cascadia Region Earthquake Workgroup.

Preparedness Tips

More preparedness information here.