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Office of Emergency Management

King County Office of Emergency Management
3511 NE 2nd Street
Renton, WA 98056
Main Phone: 206-296-3830
Toll Free: 800-523-5044
Fax: 206-205-4056

Enhanced 911 Program
Seattle, WA
E-911 program office


Image: EarthquakeEarthquakes are described as the sudden release of energy occurring from the collision of crustal plates on the earth's surface or from the fracture of stressed rock formations in that crust. Though it can be said that there are many technical differences in the rocking, rolling, jarring and jolting felt during an earthquake, they can be devastatingly damaging and seriously unnerving.

King County is geographically located in an area known as the Pacific Ring of Fire, a distinctive zone marked by the prevalence of earthquake and volcanic activity. Washington State is framed by the Pacific, North American, and Juan de Fuca plates, which are segments of the earth's crust. A significant number of active fault lines or cracks in the crust have been identified in the central Puget Sound area including Seattle and King County. On an annual basis, thousands of minor earthquake events occur in the greater Puget Sound region. Most of these earthquakes go unnoticed by local residents since it usually requires a magnitude of 2.5 to 3.0 for a local trembler to be noticed.

Earthquake scenarios have been developed to identify possible areas of greatest vulnerability to earthquake damage. While they should not be viewed as absolute predictors, they can help emergency management professionals and residents think through "what if" challenges and develop contingency plans for disaster response and recovery. A great way to raise awareness of the importance of earthquake preparedness and what to do when the shaking begins is by participating in Washington State's annual "Great Shakeout". The video below provides more information. Register today!

King County has a long history of documented earthquake activity. The most recent significant activity was the Nisqually Earthquake of February 28, 2001. This earthquake, 10 miles northeast of Olympia in Thurston County (over 40 miles from Seattle), resulted in statewide losses exceeding $1 billion and injured 700 people, many in King County. Events like the Nisqually seem to reoccur about every 30 to 35 years, while events like the 1949 7.1 magnitude Olympia earthquake occur about once every 100 years. However, subduction earthquakes, events that occur along the interface between tectonic plates, can be spaced anywhere from 100 to 1,100 years apart, although the last recorded subduction event in Washington State occurred in1700. These great magnitude events can reach 8.0 to 9.0 on the Richter scale.

A good KCTS 9 video on earthquake information and preparedness can be viewed at  It was filmed in March 2011 and features local earthquake expert Bill Steele and public educators from King County Office of Emergency Management and Seattle Emergency Management.


Earthquake events felt or impacting King County:


April 1945 5.7

SSE of North Bend

February 1949 6.8

ENE of Olympia

April 1965 6.7

N of Tacoma

May 1980 5.0

Mount St. Helen

January 1995 5.0

NNE Tacoma

July 1996 5.4

ENE of Duvall

November 1996 2.9

Puget Sound

February 1997 3.0

SE of Seattle

April 1997 4.9

Puget Sound off Vashon Island

June 1997 2.7

Puget Sound

July 1997 3.1


February 1998 2.9

NE of Seattle

March 1998 3.1

Pierce County

March 1998 2.9


July 1999 3.9


February 2001 6.8

Nisqually - Olympia

May 2002 4.1

Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands

May 2003 3.7

Bremerton, Kitsap County

June 2003 3.6


January 2009 4.5

Bremerton, Kitsap County


Earthquakes and the rumored "Triangle of Life": Protect yourself during an earthquake -

Drop, cover and hold!

 A popular, yet misleading, message  is circulating on the Internet again for how to survive an earthquake by using the "triangle of life" technique.  With images from Haiti's devastating earthquake still fresh on our minds, King County residents need to know "Drop, Cover and Hold" is still the best method for earthquake safety in the United States and especially in our own quake-prone region. 

For more information, read our news article that was posted March 2011, shortly after Japan's large earthquake.

Earthquake Exercise: Sound Shake 2010 - The Aftershock

King County departments and partner agencies participated in an earthquake exercise Oct. 2010. Learn more.

Icon: PDF Icon Sound Shake Earthquake Guide for Businesses (610 KB; PDF; 12 pages)

A tool for facilitating earthquake preparedness at your workplace. Identify your organizational risks and hazards and develop an emergency plan.


Direct impacts from earthquakes may include damages to structures like buildings, pipelines, roadways and bridges. Secondary impacts from earthquakes are common and can include tsunamis/seiches and landslides.

Impacts to a community from earthquake events include injuries to citizens and public safety officials, damage to property and critical infrastructures, loss of vital services including electricity, gas, and communication systems, lost revenue and economic damages, and increased demand on public safety and infrastructure-related services. Washington State ranks second only to California among states susceptible to earthquake damages. Nationally, Seattle might incur the seventh largest potential dollar damages/losses.

Since King County is part of "Earthquake Country," being prepared for the next trembler is a key goal for your individual and family preparedness planning!

 Hazard-specific preparedness steps

  1. Find out if you live or work in a liquefaction area that may be impacted during an earthquake. While all areas within our region are susceptible to earthquake damage, liquefaction areas may be more vulnerable.
  2. Pick safe places in your home where you could drop, cover and hold during an earthquake. Safe places could be under a sturdy table or desk or against an interior wall away from windows, bookcases, or tall furniture that could fall on you. Remember to do the same at work! 
  3. Practice drop, cover and hold. If you physically practice you'll have a better chance of remembering what to do during a real earthquake.
  4. Have a fire extinguisher available and know when and how to use it. Minimum recommended size: 2A:10BC.
  5. Seismically safeguard your home. This could include securing items such as appliances, water heater, book cases, framed pictures, televisions and computers; installing cabinet latches, and securing valuable/sentimental breakable items to shelves with putty.
  6. If your home was built before 1977, check to see if the foundation is bolted to the frame.
  7. Prepare for the possibility of a tsunamis/seichespower outages and landslides.
  8. See the section General Preparedness Steps below for more disaster planning basics.

Response steps

  1. During an earthquake, drop, cover and hold where you are until the shaking stops. If you are inside, stay inside - wait until the shaking stops and you are sure it's safe to exit. If you're in a multiple-story building and you must leave, wait until the shaking stops and use the stairs - do not use the elevator, which can be damaged during an earthquake.
  • If in bed - stay in bed and hold on, protecting your head with a pillow.
  • When outdoors - find a clear spot away from buildings, trees, and power lines. Crouch down low and cover your head.
  • In a vehicle - slow down and drive to a clear space away from overpasses, power lines, buildings, and trees. Stay in your vehicle, with the seatbelt fastened, until the shaking stops. Once the shaking stops, proceed with caution. Avoid bridges or ramps that may have been damaged.
  1. After the shaking stops, check yourself and then others for injuries. Give first aid for serious injuries.
  2. Check for and extinguish small fires and eliminate any fire hazards. 
  3. Check for gas leaks. Leave the gas on at the main valve unless you smell gas or suspect a leak; it may be weeks or months before professionals can turn the gas back on. If you smell gas or hear a blowing or hissing noise, open a window and quickly leave the building and turn off the gas at the outside main valve if you can. 
  4. Look for electrical system damage. If you see sparks or broken or frayed wires, or if you smell hot insulation, turn off the electricity at the main fuse box or circuit breaker.
  5. Check for damage to sewer and water lines. If you suspect damage to sewer lines, do not use toilets. If water pipes are damaged do not use water from the tap. Contact your local utility agency to report damage.  
  6. Inspect your home for damage. Get everyone out if your home is unsafe.
  7. Monitor your NOAA weather radio and keep a local radio and/or television on for information and emergency instructions.
  8. Use the telephone only to report life-threatening emergencies. 
  9. Expect aftershocks.