The Cascadia Fault: Overlooked and Underprepared

The Cascadia Fault: Overlooked and Underprepared

In late 2004, an undersea megathrust earthquake occurred off the west coast of Indonesia when the Indian Plate was subducted by the Burma Plate, triggering a series of devastating tsunamis along most landmasses bordering the Indian Ocean. The earthquake and subsequent tsunamis killed over 230,000 people in 14 countries, plowing through coastal communities with waves up to 100 feet high. With a magnitude of 9.1–9.3, it was the third-largest earthquake ever recorded.

In 2011, another undersea megathrust earthquake occurred off the coast of Japan, producing powerful tsunami waves that reached over 130 feet. With a magnitude of 9.0, the earthquake and tsunami that followed caused 15,891 confirmed deaths, 6,152 injuries, and left 2,584 people missing. It was the most powerful earthquake to ever hit Japan and the fourth-largest earthquake ever recorded.

When North Americans talk about “The Big One,” they’re often referring to the earthquake and subsequent destruction that is assumed to eventually take place along the San Andreas Fault. But, just north of the California’s most famous fault line is the lesser known and far more insidious Cascadia subduction zone running 750 miles from Vancouver to Northern California. As Kathryn Schulz reported for The New Yorker earlier this week, this somewhat mysterious fault is nearly three quarters of a century overdue for a massive earthquake, estimated to be anywhere between 8.0 and 9.2 in magnitude.

In 2013, The Seattle Times science reporter Sandi Doughton released Full-Rip 9.0, a book highlighting the “scientists who are dedicated to understanding the way the earth moves,” what patterns can be identified, and how prepared people are—or, in the case of Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, how vulnerable our Pacific Northwest actually is. Almost three hundred people died in Hurricane Sandy. Nearly 2,000 were killed in Hurricane Katrina. Over 3,000 lost their lives in San Francisco’s great earthquake of 1906. As Schulz reported in The New Yorker, "FEMA projects that nearly thirteen thousand people will die in the Cascadia earthquake and tsunami. Another twenty-seven thousand will be injured, and the agency expects that it will need to provide shelter for a million displaced people, and food and water for another two and a half million.”

The most alarming question to come from all of this data is not “if” but “when” as geologists can now guarantee that this catastrophe of colossal proportions is on its way. By the time the aftershocks have stopped and the water has receded, “the region will be unrecognizable.” Kenneth Murphy, who directs FEMA ’s Region X, the division responsible for Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska, says, “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.” In the Pacific Northwest, everything west of Interstate 5 includes Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Eugene, Salem, Olympia, and over seven million people. When the Cascadia earthquake and tsunami occurs, that region will have suffered the worst natural disaster in the history of North America. Survivors will be few, and the landscape of the United States will be changed forever.

Download Center

  • Monitoring and Reporting on Air Emissions for Regulators and the Real World

    When it comes to managing compliance and regulatory issues surrounding air emissions, there are no easy jobs. With interviews from practitioners from American Electric Power, Red Cedar Gathering, Trinity Consultants, and Cority, this eBook provides practical advice to advance your air emissions monitoring and reporting programs.

  • What Every EHS Professional Should Know About ESG

    Join experts from Arcadis and Cority on April 27th to learn the most common ESG reporting frameworks and how technology can help you improve reporting efficiency, identify areas for improvement, and create defensible audit trails.

  • Green Quadrant EHS Software 2021

    Read the new report by independent analyst firm, Verdantix, to get an unbiased comparison of the 22 most prominent EHS software vendors in the industry.

  • RFP Template for Waste Management Software

    Learn the essential questions to ask when evaluating waste management software solutions with this free, ready-to-use RFP template

  • 5 Keys to Best-in-Class Chemical Management

    Running a safe chemical program is challenging and complex: from knowing what's on-site to proper handling and disposal - all while navigating regulatory changes. Learn the best ways to mitigate chemical risk, get the most value out of your data, and gain buy-in for a chemical management solution.

Featured Webinar