Is The West Coast & Pacific Northwest Prepared For The Big One?

Earthquake Preparedness Should Be Part of West Coast Life | But Is It?

California San Andreas and Surrounding Fault Zones

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably are aware of the recent large magnitude earthquakes that have rumbled the southwest of California.

The epicenter of those recent quakes (and quake swarm) is just over a hundred miles from the Los Angeles metro region. Fortunately out in the desert.

Though the recent earthquakes have not been on the San Andreas Fault, the shifting earth is all related. One never knows when one leads to another…

I dug up some data on the number of earthquakes magnitude 3 or greater over the last 20 years (for the California region within the map above).

Other than the year 2010 when the total quakes on the illustrated map (above) were ~2000 (due to a Baja earthquake swarm), this year 2019 (as of July) there have been nearly 900 earthquakes (within the region shown on the map above). The average has been ~460/yr there.

So, something is happening. People there should take serious notice.

How Many People Might Be Affected

The Los Angeles-Long Beach, CA Combined Statistical Area(CSA), more commonly known as the Greater Los Angeles Area is actually a megapolitan area consisting of three metropolitan areas, with an estimated population of 18,788,800 in 2017.

The San Francisco Bay Area has a population of over 7 million people in nine counties and 101 cities.

How many of the combined 25 million people, just in those two regions, are prepared for The Big One?

Probably not too many at all.

The Pacific Northwest and the Cascadia Subduction Zone

The Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ) “megathrust” fault is a 1,000 km long dipping fault that stretches from Northern Vancouver Island to Cape Mendocino California.

Great Subduction Zone earthquakes are the largest earthquakes in the world, and are the only source zones that can produce earthquakes greater than M8.5.

The Cascadia Subduction Zone has produced magnitude 9.0 or greater earthquakes in the past, and undoubtedly will in the future.

Pacific Northwest Seismic Network

The population of the Pacific Northwest region is about 15 million.

Everyone knows that the Cascadia Subduction Zone is going to unleash a mega quake one day. It will likely result in a massive tsunami and horrible damage to the city regions along the coast there.

I wonder how many of the 15 million people there are prepared for that?

Probably not too many.

Earthquake Preparedness

When there’s a big enough earthquake to rattle the nerves so to speak, some people do ‘wake up’ and prepare a little.

A recent article in the Los Angeles Times headlines “Even after huge earthquakes, much of Southern California still unprepared for The Big One”

They report on how a local surplus supply store was cleaned out in one day due to the Ridgecrest quake.

The same scenario played out at stores across Southern California all weekend following a magnitude 6.4 earthquake on the morning of July Fourth and a larger temblor — a magnitude 7.1 — that struck a day later near Ridgecrest, Calif., a Mojave Desert town about 125 miles northeast of Los Angeles.

“People have short memories — even about earthquakes,” It’s not just emergency supplies that people are lacking. According to the Department of Insurance, only about 21% of homeowners in L.A. and Orange counties have coverage for quake damage.

(I guess most are figuring the government will pay for it all)

How Do You Prepare For A Big Earthquake?

I’ve written about this before. Although it has been awhile, the preparedness is the same.

Water. Food. Emergency shelter capability (your home may not be safe). There are things that should be done preemptively for safety.

You might get started by browsing these articles and then searching this site for more preparedness advice:

Earthquake Preparedness At Home

Earthquake Survival Kit 101


  1. Discussed this with acdh since he normally took care of the shut off valve for the propane. Since he is out of commission for a while longer it falls to me.
    Normally I carry a case of water in the vehicle at all times-jic. His jic bag and mine well it is not in the vehicle, yet it should be with all the traveling I have been doing lately. A good reminder that I am not prepared as I should be.

  2. After living in Los Angeles of many years, and becoming involved with the USGS for the monitoring of deep wells for radon gas, and attending the classified meetings arranged by the Federal government to model an 8.4 San Andreas earthquake near L.A., I knew the only way to prepare was to leave the L.A. area…and relocate. Every other option was only viable for a much smaller earthquake, and became moot in the face of the expected events following a major, disastrous, quake.

    I was actually providing preparedness advise to companies and individuals, when I realized the best advise was to “get out.”

    Imagine an 8.4 quake in L.A., in the middle of a weekday, while you are at work. The kids are at various schools, some of which are several miles away. The wife is at her work, located 60 miles away from home. You are at your job, which is almost a two hour drive away from home, and which may involve you being “in the field” to perform. Then, the quake happens at 1 P.M..

    What are the chances you will ever see your family again? They are not very good.

    The power is off. The cell phones do not work. All the freeway over passes are down, as are the bridges. The road surfaces are broken and buckled, and covered with cars and debris. All the dams have failed, such as the Hollywood dam, and the Van Norman Lakes dam. Buildings have failed and the glass from the downtown buildings cover the ground around them as high as your waste. Fires break out all over the place. Chemical spills. Ruptured tanks. Broken pipelines. Emergency equipment trapped in place. On and on and on.

    We planned to conduct relief operations from the middle of the Central Valley, near Fresno..and from Nevada. The best we could do as to try and fly in water..and only water…into air strips built by military units in the zone. As the water was taken off the aircraft in bladder bags, the plane would fill with evacuate. We calculated, if we used ALL the aircraft in the U.S., Military and Civilian…and ALL the aircraft from ALL of our allied countries in the effort…and we were flawless in our scheduling….at MAX capacity…we could only take care of 15% of the water to sustain the effected population. That is IF you could distribute the water from the landing area to them effectively. You see, even the cisterns and flapper values in the water system would immediately become chemically contaminated..and probably fail to function, as they were installed in the 1930s and never tested since.

    LA is a city surrounded by desert and steep mountains. Where do you go? Can you walk there? Can you carry that much water? Can you hump down the road with all your survival gear, past thousands of desperate people?

    The only answer is. “Get out.”

    1. Your insight and comments are quite chilling to imagine. I do think that your advice to “get out” of the area makes perfect sense, though I doubt many will take it.

      1. Very few took the advise… I took my own…and fled with my family. I am so very happy I did, too.

    2. Ision,
      Thanks for your insight. I have spent time in the Los Angeles general area during a previous career (as well as the Bay Area). Like you implied, “the big one” would be a unimaginable disaster whereby so many would lose their lives. It would be mind boggling. It’s bad enough that the water supplies would cease to exist / function, but the fires would rage infernos throughout.

      Normalcy bias will deter most everyone from thinking about it to that extent.

      1. Well, like in Japan…where I lived for years…the people are just fatalistic about it. They know it is going to happen. And, they know they will probably not make it through, but their jobs and families are there…and they figure they will all go together.

        1. Japan, they should have been more concerned about building a nuclear plant near Fukushima. Always about the money no matter what country you live in. We have many here that are in the wrong place too.

  3. What is really unimaginable…is for L.A. to get hit by an 8 plus…and within four months…San Francisco follows suit. Then, the Pacific NW….a few months after that.

  4. You will know the “Big One” has hit L.A., when the U.S. Power Grid goes down. We calculated the number of power plants we would loose and the number of sub stations, and transmission lines. If we were lucky, we figured…we could stop the grid power loss at the Rockies. If not, the entire grid could trip being out of phase…and involve Canada and Mexico…too.

    So, the power can go off for you in Utah, and lots of other places, but it will not be like an EMP. It’s just L.A. getting “remodeled.”

  5. Sister-in-law moved to LA in Feb after a divorce wife called her after the 2 recent quakes and asked if they had any supplies. NOPE. Said they would worry about it when it happens. DUMB A$$es. You can’t help stupid

  6. Had a 5.3 quake off Or. coast today, right on the Cascadia fault line. Wonder if there’s more to come soon up here to go with that? Thank goodness I’m far enough inland in north Idaho. We’ll probably feel it if the big one goes up here. We felt that 4 point something in Lincoln,Mt. recently. Shook pretty good for a few seconds.

    1. 5.4 west of Bandon Oregon and well offshore. The Cascadia fault is much closer to shore. Go to USGS earthquakes to see the location and fault lines.

      It seems that every quake we get around here is on that fault line and actually very few of them are.

  7. We used to live on an island in the San Juan’s on the West side of Washington. One of the many things we did not feel comfortable about was the “earthquake situation” so we moved over the hills to an area that does not seem to be prone to quakes.
    If a big one goes off we will feel it I’m sure but to a lesser degree.

  8. Sad that we won’t be able to protect the residents of the quake, and certainly we have no control of the quake itself. But those of us in other parts of the country won’t be directly affected and can take steps to cope with the consequences of such a quake.

    Mr. Ken, what’s the chances of a follow-up article on the impact that will affect the whole country?

    Such as the overall economy and stock market. How might Silicon Valley affect our tech industry or (of course, depending on location) the food growing areas. It would take years to rebuild (even partially) the damaged area–and could the twenty-some trillion dollar government even afford it. I mean, we’re talking Big Time trouble for the “whole” country.

    1. MorrisB, since your question is about nationwide recovery and not about personal preparation, I suggest you post your question as an internet search to see if anyone is thinking about that.

    2. MorrisB
      If you think you wouldn’t be affected by major quakes in Ca you might want to google about the amount of food that is produced there. About 13% of all food consumed in this country comes from Ca and 99 percent of walnuts, 97 percent of kiwis, 97 percent of plums, 95 percent of celery, 95 percent of garlic, 89 percent of cauliflower, 71 percent of spinach, 69 percent of carrots and the list goes on and on. There would be a lot of hungry people and prices on many veggies would go through the roof.

      1. Freeze dried veggies in #10 cans. Fairly inexpensive too. Just look for a sale. Third or fourth best in flavor, but better than none.

        1. Mrs. USMCBG where do you get freeze dried veggies in #10 cans please? I see them at Auguson Farms but seem expensive to me?

          I can never figure out just how much you get for the price, could you give me an idea maybe in pound’s of frozen veggies per #10 can maybe?


        2. me2, Not mrs U, but mother earth products has dehyd. and freee dry in several sizes. be sure when you do price comparison do serving size and how many per container. for dehydrated food veggies rehydrate at 2x the amount… a 1/2 cup of dehydrated rehydrates to really close to 1 cup. freeze dry does similarly- but do not change size same way as regular dehydration…as a result one might not get as many freeze dry products in a quart jar. Another option is to buy canned goods-as long as you like the products- and dehydrate those. I jut put 12 15 oz. cans of string beans dehydrated into a quart jar..foods that have been processed like frozen or canned veggies just have to be put on dehydrator and dried until they are crispy.

        3. Thanks Just Saying for the information. I have had some success in dehydrating frozen veggies but no real idea just how long they will keep if dried and kept in a food saver lidded quart jar.

          How do you determine if they are properly dried as I’ve had a few less successful jars over the last 6 months. (Funky smell) How long storage time should I expect if I do dry them properly and keep them in a food saver vacc pack lid quart jar. Awkward way to say it sorry…. Corn seems hardest to know if properly dried. Crispy seems a relative term.

          I’d love to vacc pack whole dry meals in a jar for those times we are so busy a dump into slow cooker and go would be awesome. Anybody doing this? I can see adding chopped jerky to the jar along with seasonings?

          Again thanks, lots to learn and do before socialism (Gimmie Dat’s) puts us into a world of hurt.

        4. me2,
          I have taken recipes from a “meals in a jar” book and vacuum-sealed the ingredients in Food Saver bags instead of the glass jars. Doing that takes less room.
          The one drawback is that certain ingredients will turn into little bricks once they’ve been vacuum-packed. Make those meals that call for rice, beans, etc but leave out the bouillons — add the when you open the bags. The powdered ingredients like chicken bouillon will cake-up when vacuum packed and it takes extra effort to break it apart.

        5. Me2
          Check for freeze dried veggies on Walmart . com They sell some of the Auguson Farms products there cheaper than at the company web sight. You can also get them through other big box stores. While I agree they do seem a little pricey if you watch for some sales and buy a few at a time you will have a stockpile in no time.

        6. me2

          I’ve got them from Costco on-line, Thrivelife Foods, and Nutristore (reportedly a lower cost version of Thrive). LDS store carries #10 cans of dehydrated carrots. Walmart and Amazon carry a variety of brands on-line.

          Sometimes you can enlarge the picture to see what the weight of the can is, other times calculate from nutritional information. Freeze-dried has more volume but less weight for same starting amount than dehydrated.

        7. me2, veggies that are dehydrated should be crispy. they should snap when broken. after they are cooled.putting a moisture absorber, like comes packaged in some medications helps if in a high humidity area. as well as oxygen absorber of some type.
          I have some dehydrated veggies opened at 4 years, home sealed. tastes like was done yesterday. would not be afraid to eat 15 years out as long as dry, intact, with oxygen abosrber, glass jar.
          I check jars about every 4 months, if jar has lost seal…open and check…color,odor texture.? if all is normal will either use within 3-4 months or reseal, many veggies easily keep 7-8 months dehydrated, dry w/o oxy absorber…I keep okra, mixed veggies( from frozen- I add butter peas and extra string beans) and mushrooms open for up to 9 months without moisture absorber.
          First one to absorb moisture…has been Mushrooms will begin to feel leathery, at that point put in refrig door and use for next use. of ingredient. spaghetti or stew…
          I often use the hot hands in quart and hand warmer activated per jar. they also work in 2 and 3 liter and gallon bottles for things like rice and oatmeal. as long as the vacume seal is intact,will not go rancid.salt and sugar do not need to be vacume packed just dry/moisture protected. so they can be packed in 3 liter bottles if desired. flour , cornmeal needs to be in mylar or glass. they loose seal in plastic containers… rice doesn’t. not after 4 years. Have one 2 liter bottle of rice is sucked in.. has 2 flat sides, stacked like a brick… go figure.I freeze all dried grains for 7-10 days.minimum. wheat berries exception. just clean and dry in 5 gallon bucket. can add DE 1/2 cup according to article this site… I add Bay leaves to top and thru mine.
          Corn, must be hard as a rock. but yet not burned. i have had good success with commercial whole kernel corn… drain and rinse. drain again. then put on trays. spread it out well. have to be able to check it every 2 hours, i have to rotate my trays.. i have two that dry quicker than the others. I used plastic canvas mesh to make holes smaller on my trays.spread out well.don’t leave in clumps../heaps…for creamed style i would do on fruit leather trays… once dry could use a mortar and pestle to grind some up for creamier texture when rehydrated.
          I have not done the meals in a jar, ..

  9. Life is a trade-off. I live in one of the most beautiful areas of the country. Huge 2nd growth Redwoods all around me. While many of you are roasting in the 100+ degree heat index I’ll be working on my yard today with the temperature in the mid 70s. In the most recent drought in kalifornia my part of the state was the only county to be considered not in it. (We also consider ourselves to live in the state of Jefferson which at this time is more of a state of mind.) We can support ourselves if we can’t get outside supplies. We’re well away from the golden horde. The nearest upwind reactors are on the other side of the pacific ocean. So far none of our fish are growing extra eyes from the Fukishima event.

    Yet there is that bit of history showing that we have been hit in the past with devastating tsunamis. Core samples of the ground and tree ring analysis show how often they happen and we are certainly overdue. Our area has been extensively studied and the common refrain is everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast. All of the roads into the area will be out as will the power and water. Medical facilities still capable of operating will be overwhelmed immediately. It will probably be the same sort of conditions from Eureka, California to Vancouver, British Columbia. The economic hit to the entire country will be horrific.

    For me I can run my generator for a couple of hours a day for a year and feed me and mine for at least a year. I’m not supposed to know about it but there is also allegedly from a reliable source enough food stored locally to feed everyone in the county for at least 6 months. When we bought our house I did look into the inundation zone and made sure we were out of it.

    I do have serious concerns. I doubt that my house would be able to continue standing in a big quake. I also wonder about the trees surrounding it and how many of them would fall. I can’t help but wonder is shifting ground would collapse my well. We do have a source of water other than the well and the means to make it potable.

    The area does suffer from normalcy bias. Many people just don’t think about it and many are too poor to prep. Lots of housing in the inundation zone and many would not mYet thake it out. I think a lot of the resources left after the big one would have be used to bury the bodies.

    It’s a trade-off. I can’t think of a better place to be in most foreseeable catastrophes than right here. Yet there is the possibility of the big one. As it is I’m getting towards the end of my run anyway, if I survive it great, if not it has been a very good run.

    1. Me
      “Life is a tradeoff”

      Oh so true in oh so many ways,,,

      I suppose it boils down to what we do with it.

    2. me,
      anyone CAN prep on some level.It does take longer. It requires dedication to the plan… by using cost cutting strategies, and applying those savings to preps it can be done. One must determine what must be done and go for it. How?
      I started with making own laundry detergent and putting those savings back in preps.That was my first month of preps.It cost me 16$ at the time.I washed clothes for 5 months on those supplies.
      Also by eating and dehydrating all leftovers. Using all oils, bacon grease., pork fat..etc.
      Plan for 2-4 extra meals per week. by increasing serving size, and or reducing meat used in each recipe. reducing meat from one lb to 3/4 lb( hamburger helper TYPE meal) would allow ample protein for 2 people to have 2 servings with only one-2 sides of veggie..get extra meats one month for extra meals..and all other items for the entre’ the next one.
      Break down all meats in serving sizes for each person to have 2 servings.. cook both at same time and save on energy to cook them. Buy 6-8lbs of frozen veggies each month. any not used by next payday, dehydrate , pack for long term..Ditto with canning of meats.

  10. I live in SoCal about 20 miles from the ocean. My kids know the routine if they r at school or home. I keep a bugout bag and tennis shoes in my car and never let the tank get lower than a quarter. If the big one happens while I am at work, I will have to walk home to get to my kids because I know the roads I take will not be usable. My family is as ready as we can be…I can’t say the same for my neighbors or friends. Fail to prepare then prepare to fail.

    1. Excellent! Since you might be out away from home when it happens, it’s a great idea to keep a ordinary backpack in your car, along with some supplies in there (for the walk).

  11. Just another tidbit to ponder….

    In the Los Angeles area, there are several organized bodies of men, who have prepared plans to execute during the immediate aftermath of a 8+ quake there. These are extremely violent men, who intend to hit various predetermined targets expressly for the looting of valuables and heavy weaponry. Some have specific plans of attack upon National Guard Armories and identified vaults. They are prepared to kill anyone without hesitation and will fight any other such teams they encounter, which may be after the same target.

    Upon completing their looting, they plan to secure it and protect it..while making an overt show of being just like everyone else to any authorities managing a response.

    So, if you see a bunch of armed men, out of uniform, riding over the rubble in a APC…hide.

  12. Can I be a bit of a heretic and say “nahhhh”?

    Earthquakes happen for a reason; those reasons appear to be localized. While some may speculate about the geo-time frequency of large earthquakes, let’s look at known (observed or measured) ones. We only began measuring @1900.

    There have been seven estimated M9s and above and another 28 between M8.5 and M9 since 1500 AD.
    ~ 12 in Chile where the Antarctic, Scotia, Nazca, and South American plates touch.
    ~ 6 in Indonesia where the Australian, Philippine, Eurasian, and Pacific plates meet.
    ~ 3 in Japan where the Pacific, Eurasian, Philippine, and North American plates converge.
    ~ 3 in the Alaskan Islands where the northeastern-most point of the Pacific plate is digging into the North American plate.
    ~ 3 in Russia (Kamchatka/Kuril) where the northwestern-most point of the Pacific plate is tucked into the Eurasian plate.
    ~ 1 each in Cascadia, Bangladesh, Ecuador, Portugal, Mexico, Peru, and Tibet.

    The upper West Cost has little Juan de Fuca plate sandwiched between the Pacific and North American plates. The lower West Coast has the San Andreas fault line where the Pacific and North American plates rub against each other. Lots of earthquakes, but mostly pretty small.

    The most destruction and loss of life does not necessarily come from the largest earthquakes. Population density, building materials and quality, opportunities for fire (gas lines), and whether there is a large associated tsunami appear to be predictive of catastrophe.

    But, as they say, anything’s possible. Building with wood and removing trees close enough to fall on the house and barn is my primary prep for surviving a big earthquake.

    1. Minerjim, Yep. Always a whole lot o’ shaking’ goin’ on. Eastern side of the Ring of Fire seems particularly active today. Am watching a swarm off the coast of Oregon right now. Strong correlation between GSMs and big vulcanism. Just this year we’ve seen La Soufriere on St Vincent and Cumbre Vieja on La Palma burst into activity. Good site for recent info is

  13. Related comment.

    Darling Offspring was in school in Tacoma WA when the 2001 M6.8 Nisqually quake hit. I was in my office in DC.

    DO called me from a phone at the school to say all was okay, though brick parts of the school fell down. Phone lines in-state were unavailable. Gave me a list and I spent the next few hours calling classmates’ families to say their kids were okay. Seems interstate calls would go through when intrastate calls didn’t.

    I wonder if that would still hold in this era of cell phones and shared towers?

    1. hello-
      Most newer landline phones need power to work, so I keep an old style telephone to try if the electricity goes out. The phone company provides its own separate power and will often work in a local blackout.

      1. That power can be siphoned off with capacitors….I’ve heard…might want to look at that.

  14. I live inland on the Kenai peninsula… We attempted to buy property in this area five times in 2020… Decided it wasn’t meant to be… After reading this article I am thinking about moving further North of Anchorage… How do I assess natural disaster risk for an area? Tsunami risk in Soldotna or Sterling? I am a mother with two daughters and do prepare for natural disasters but feel that staying on the peninsula isn’t safe. Any thoughts?

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