Shock Proof: How Washingtonian's stay prepared for earthquakes and volcanoes

Lefty Graves
Mt. Baker is one of five volcanoes in Washington StatePhoto byJoel SwickonUnsplash

Residents in Washington State have learned to co-exist with the ever-present threat of earthquakes. Having been a lifelong resident of Washington State, my family understands how to remain prepared at all times. Recent seismic activity is a reminder that it’s important to remain prepared in an earthquake.

A major earthquake in 1994 shook the region registering at a 6.5 to 6.7, depending on your source, during a Mariner’s baseball game. It felt like you were on a roller coaster for several minutes as the earthquake rocked the region. It stopped the baseball game and shook the region unmercifully as residents and visitors scrambled for cover.

After the earthquake, residents checked their homes for damage. Some had new cracks forming on interior walls, exterior walls had damages as well, things were knocked off of shelves, furnishings were toppled over, and many pets were hiding or found standing with all four feet braced in bathtubs. It took residents awhile to settle back into their routines as there were several aftershocks.

Residents in Central and Eastern Washington felt the earthquake as well; however, there wasn’t any damage in these areas. Residents noticed pictures shaking on walls, animals changing their behaviors, items rattling in cupboards and on shelves, items bouncing around on tables, and minor tremors were felt.

Washington State is in the Cascadia Subduction Zone. This is a fault line that is 700 miles long and runs from Northern California up to Canada’s Vancouver Island. It’s kind of like a very long corridor running through the state.

Washington State is also home to five volcanoes that earthquakes may awaken.

Mt. St. Helen’s erupted on May 18, 1980, and left a wake of destruction behind. Thankfully, preparedness helped to reduce the number of casualties to 57. Yes, 57 lives lost is a lot; however, it could have been much worse had people not been prepared.

Other volcanoes in the state include Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, Glacier Peak, and Mount Baker. It’s important to understand that earthquakes can shake a volcano back into life and cause more volcanic activity. Earthquakes can trigger a volcano to erupt. They cause changes in the internal pressure, which allows the magma to escape and may lead to an eruption.

Residents in the region and scientists have learned to watch for signs of a volcano returning to life. Although Mt. St. Helen’s is the one most recently in the news, that doesn’t mean the others won’t suddenly awaken and impact the region.

Tsunamis and earthquakes

Earthquakes can also trigger Tsunamis in the region off the coast of Washington. Visitors to the region near the coast will notice blue and white signs that state ‘Tsunami Route’. Scientists can predict the likelihood of a tsunami for the region and evacuate the area in a timely fashion, hopefully before a tsunami would hit the area.

What is the cause of an earthquake?

The earth is always in motion. Continental plates deep underneath the ground happen as plates suddenly break off or settle into a more suitable position. Much like a house settling over the years which can cause doors to be slightly askew or floors to be slightly off-kilter.

Over time, the earth settles further into position and releases energy called seismic waves which cause the surrounding area to shake, rattle, and roll.

How Washingtonians Stay Prepared for Earthquakes

Now that we understand more about earthquakes let’s take a look at how Washingtonians stay prepared for the inevitable ‘next one’. Seattle, for example, has taken measures to improve their preparedness by learning what buildings and structures may be hazardous during an earthquake.

Such facilities are then reinforced and prepared to better sustain the ravage effects of the earthquake. Residents are also encouraged to have an emergency earthquake plan in place and an emergency earthquake kit.

Everyone’s earthquake kit will be different. Children are taught how to respond to earthquakes early in this region. Schools and other businesses in the region have plans and protocols for such an event.

It’s not unusual for residents to have seismic activity detectors in their homes and businesses. Many residents also practice maintaining an emergency food supply that won’t rely on electricity should the power go down.

‘Seattle-ites’, as they often refer to themselves, have learned to work together in small communities to have emergency plans in place. The region also has frequent workshops that teach residents how to be prepared.

Residents in Washington State never completely let their guard down regarding earthquakes. We’re always ready for the next big tremor or earthquake. Aftershocks are common, as are precursors where the earth starts with smaller quakes. Are you prepared for the next big one?

© Lefty Graves. 2023 All Rights Reserved.

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Lefty has been writing online since 2000 on various topics, including youth mentoring, addiction recovery, parenting, gardening, advocating for seniors, sustainability, farming, and an eclectic mix of other topics. She writes about all things Washington. She resides on a farm with her family in Northeastern Washington State.

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