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King County is 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. King County also has numerous fault lines - cracks in the crust - that are active and expected to create large magnitude earthquakes. On an annual basis, thousands of minor earthquakes happen in the greater Puget Sound. Most of these earthquakes go unnoticed.

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

Earthquake scenarios have been developed by emergency management professionals to identify areas of greatest vulnerability to earthquake damage. While these scenarios 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.

In June 2016, King County Emergency Management participated in a four-day exercise called Cascadia Rising that tested plans and procedures for responding to and recovering from a 9.0 Cascadia Subduction Zone quake. Emergency management professionals and first responders throughout the Pacific Northwest joined in this drill in order to test their response and mutual aid plans. The lessons learned from Cascadia Rising will be used to update and refine our earthquake response plans, which will help King County be more resilient when a real quake happens.

Since King County is "Earthquake Country," being prepared for the next tremor should be a priority and part of your individual, family, school, and business disaster plan.

When the earth shakes... know what to do.


Drop, Cover, and Hold On!

A popular, yet misleading, message continues to circulate on the Internet and social media that promotes the "triangle of life" technique for surviving an earthquake. This technique incorrectly claims that people can use "voids" or "empty spaces" as a way to survive earthquakes. Methods like standing in a doorway, laying alongside furniture, or running outside are considered dangerous and are not recommended. Here's why:

  • Many injuries from earthquakes are caused from people running around while the ground is shaking. They fall down, run into furniture, step on broken glass, or are hit by falling objects.
  • In and around older buildings especially, there is a much higher likelihood of broken windows, falling bricks, and other dangerous debris.
  • Despite the urge to flee, experts advise people to stay put - you are more protected indoors under a sturdy desk or table.
  • Earthquakes in the U.S. do not typically result in total building collapse (also known as "pancaking") due to higher building construction standards.

The "triangle of life" theory also encourages people to roll out of bed on to the floor if caught asleep during an earthquake. Earthquake experts advise that staying in bed can provide more protection during an earthquake than rolling onto the floor beside it, where you could be injured by falling objects. Their point is this: the more you move during an earthquake, the more potential there is for injury.

Be informed, and tell others: "Drop, Cover, and Hold On" is still your best move to reduce injury and death during an earthquake in the United States.

  • DROP to the floor
  • Take COVER under a sturdy table, desk, or chair
  • HOLD ON until the shaking stops

Being ready for an earthquake includes practicing what you'll do when the earth shakes so that a safe response becomes automatic. Residents and businesses are encouraged to participate in the annual Washington Great ShakeOut earthquake drill.

  • 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.

  • Pick safe places in your home where you could Drop, Cover, and Hold On 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 or other places where you spend lots of time.

  • Practice Drop, Cover, and Hold On. If you physically practice, you'll have a better chance of remembering what to do during a real earthquake.

  • Have a fire extinguisher available and know when and how to use it. Minimum recommended size: 2A:10BC.

  • Seismically safeguard your home. This could include securing items such as appliances, water heater, bookcases, framed pictures, televisions, computers, installing cabinet latches, and securing valuable/sentimental breakable items to shelves with putty.

  • If your home was built before 1977, check to see if the foundation is bolted to the frame.

  • Prepare for the possibility of aftereffects of an earthquake, including a tsunami or seiche, utility outages, and landslides.
  • During an earthquake, Drop, Cover, and Hold On 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.

    • In bed - stay in bed and hold on, protecting your head with a pillow.

    • 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.

  • After the shaking stops, check yourself and then others for injuries. Give first aid for serious injuries.

  • Check for and extinguish small fires and eliminate any fire hazards.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Inspect your home for damage. Get everyone out if your home is unsafe.

  • Monitor local media or NOAA Weather Radio for information and emergency instructions.

  • Use the telephone only to report life-threatening emergencies.

  • Expect aftershocks.

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