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Nov. 27, 2022

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Earthquakes occur regularly in Washington, are you prepared before the next big one hits?

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Washington has earthquakes almost every day, but if you are not prepared they could cause immense damage and be dangerous for you and your loved ones.

Washington has the second-highest risk of large earthquakes in the United States because of its geologic setting, according to the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

Over 1,000 earthquakes occur in Washington each year, and in the last 125 years, the state has experienced at least 20 damaging earthquakes, according to the state’s Emergency Management Division.

Large earthquakes are less common than the small earthquakes that occur almost every day in Washington, but can cause immense damage to houses, roads, buildings, bridges and utilities you rely on.

But Washington residents should also be prepared for earthquakes that occur off the coasts of Washington that could cause tsunamis with 42-feet high waves.

Here is what Washington residents should know about earthquakes and how to be prepared before the next big one hits.

Earthquake causes

Earthquakes are caused by movement in the Earth when tectonic plates shift. “The process of breaking and moving rock releases a large amount of energy that travels through the Earth as seismic waves,” according to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

Most earthquakes take place along faults, or fractures within the earth where rock moves past each other.

These sudden shifts and movements cause the ground to shake as energy travels in waves across areas.

Risk of large earthquakes in Washington

Future earthquakes are expected, and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources states that in the next 50 years, most of Washington’s populated areas have a 40-80% chance of a large earthquake occurring.

“Washington sits where two plates come together, giving us the potential of large offshore earthquakes on the Cascadia Subduction Zone as well as the possibility of deeper earthquakes such as the 2001 Nisqually earthquake that caused shaking up and down the I-5 corridor from the southern Puget Sound region,” Mouse Reusch, ShakeAlert Regional Coordinator wrote in an email. “We also have several faults near the surface that produce shaking such as earthquakes in the past few years near Bremerton and Monroe.”

Many active faults across Washington state cause the risk of earthquakes to be high, and some faults in the state have not been studied enough to determine their potential risk.

“The USGS (United States Geological Survey) estimates that the risk of a Cascadia Earthquake is around 10-15% chance over the next 50 years with crustal faults such as the Seattle Fault having an approximate 5-7% chance in the next 50 years,” Daniel Eungard, a Geologist for the Washington Geological Survey wrote in an email.

Earthquake alerts

Washington residents have multiple ways to receive earthquake warnings before shaking occurs.

The state’s emergency management division encourages Washington residents to be signed up for Wireless Emergency Alerts, Local “OPT IN” emergency alerts and the ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning alerts.

Wireless Emergency Alerts sends text messages to your mobile phone to alert you of earthquakes, AMBER alerts, tsunami warnings and more. Residents must go into their phone’s settings to make sure the alerts are turned on.

Local “OPT IN” emergency alerts come from your specific county that offers localized emergency alerts to be sent to your phone as a text message or email. Residents wanting to receive local emergency alerts must opt into the service online through the Washington Emergency Management Divison.

The ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning alerts warn residents of incoming earthquakes through the MyShake app, built-in software on Android Phones, and the Wireless Emergency Alert system on all phones. Residents can download the app on their phones through the App Store or Google Play.

The United States Geological Survey has a live map of ongoing and recent earthquakes around the world, along with their magnitudes.

How to be prepared for an earthquake

When planning for an earthquake, you should prepare to be on your own for at least three days, according to The Washington Department of Natural Resources. The department also advises Washington residents to:

  • Make an emergency response plan.
  • Prepare for other hazards that might result from an earthquake, such as a tsunami or landslide.
  • Secure items in your home or workplace that could cause damage during an earthquake, such as a tall bookcase, heavy frames or flammable appliances.
  • Consider if you should get earthquake insurance.
  • Participate in the Great ShakeOut earthquake drills that occur on the third Thursday of every October.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security also advises preparation for an earthquake:

  • Put together a supply kit that includes essential items such as food, water, fire extinguishers and flashlights.
  • Store breakable or heavy items on the bottom of shelves.
  • Fix any structural issues in your home or buildings.

What to do during an earthquake

Protecting yourself during an earthquake is extremely important as most injuries occur from flying or falling objects.

“During an earthquake, remember to Drop, Cover, and Hold On to protect yourself from the shaking as well as the potential of objects falling on you during the shaking,” Reusch wrote in an email.

If an earthquake starts, drop to the ground and cover and hold onto something sturdy, like a table or desk. Covering your head and neck is extremely important, and staying on your knees and crawling will help protect your vital organs.

Here are a few ways to protect yourself during an earthquake, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security:

  • If you are indoors, stay inside and avoid doorways.
  • If you are outdoors, stay away from buildings or other objects that could fall on you.
  • If you are in a car, pull over, stop your car and turn on the emergency brake.
  • If you are in bed, turn face down and cover your head and neck with pillows.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources also has a few tips to stay safe during an earthquake:

  • Stay away from windows, glass, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall during an earthquake.
  • Do not use elevators, try to switch rooms or go outside during an earthquake.
  • Do not go under a doorway.
  • Avoid stopping your car near signs, traffic lights, trees or buildings.

What to do after an earthquake

Here are a few ways to protect yourself after an earthquake, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security:

  • Be aware of safety hazards such as damaged buildings, power lines, and leaking gas or water lines.
  • Expect aftershocks after an earthquake and prepare to drop, cover and hold on again if needed.
  • Get out of damaged buildings, and stay away from damaged buildings.
  • If you are trapped, send a text or try to create sound without shouting and cover our mouth with your shirt.
  • If you are in an area that experiences tsunamis, follow evacuations routes and get to high ground.
  • Call 911 if you are in need of medical assistance.

Earthquakes can cause tsunamis that can be more harmful than the earthquake itself. In Washington state, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake could create a tsunami with waves up to 42 feet tall, according to recent reporting from the Tacoma Tribune.

“Any time you feel long and/or strong shaking while you are on the coast, it is a good idea to seek higher ground. The best plan is to be aware of your surroundings and know before any shaking even happens what route you would take to get to safety and be prepared to do it on foot,” Reusch wrote in an email.

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