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The “Big One” in the Pacific Northwest: Taking conversation to action


There is a lot of buzz and interest surrounding this week’s New Yorker article The Really Big One: An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when. 

The science in the article isn’t new. The fact that there are people outside of the emergency management community  talking about this hazard and their own personal preparedness is a good thing. It’s a conversation that needs to be had.

If the article got your attention, then you’ve  already taken the first step to get better prepared, because you are better informed. This is an opportunity to learn more about the hazards in the Pacific Northwest and how you can better prepare yourself, your family, and your community. Whether you live east or west of Interstate 5, we live in a seismically active area and the worst-case scenario outlined in the article is a real possibility. One of our jobs as FEMA is to plan for an event of that size.

A photo of an evacuation route sign in Cannon Beach, OR.
Know when there's an earthquake. If you live on the coast, know your evacuation routes.

While the conversation itself is valuable, don’t let the opportunity to take action pass you by.  Take it further today by making a family emergency plan and starting your emergency supply kit. For more information about getting prepared, visit or

For more on the science behind the Cascadia Subduction Zone, visit the U.S. Geological Survey website.

Last Updated: 
06/02/2017 - 09:20


It mentions Sacramento will be damaged. How and how can we prepare?

Ken, you are quoted as saying “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.” , what does that mean. Like gone into the ocean and now Portland is coastal town? Can you elaborate or tell me where I can get more data on the topic? Is the FEMA plan I can read about this SPECIFIC topic?

How to protect our family when there is a Mega Quake?

Mr. Murphy, You were quoted in the above article as saying "Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.” and "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." When did you say that? And was it directly to the author of the article in the New Yorker in an interview?

I still can't find where the quote about the casualties in the article from the New Yorker was really said by Mr. Murphy to the author in a sit down interview, or if she was quoting him from another source?

Why did FEMA decide to set the target date and time for the next major NW earthquake as February 6, 2016 at 9:41 am? Were crystal balls involved?

I see a lot of info for Washington and Oregon (due to there large cities) regarding the "big one" that has been receiving more attention via social media. I live in Redding Ca. Where most of the land slippage is expected. Can we get more insight on what we could expect and how to prepare for such an event in our area? Interstate 5 runs straight through our city. Everything on Fox news, youtube etc suggest anything west of I-5 is "toast". What peaks my interest is that we frequently experience earthquakes just as must as residents in the bay area. Seems there has been a lot of activity in the Keswick damn area. Thank you for you time, Sincerely Shaina Saelee

i am very afraid of this, i will be living in the beaverton/ tanasbourne area in oregon. i will have an infant and my husband and mother. what can we expect for that area?

what can we expect for beaverton oregon?

I live on the island of Oahu in the state of Hawaii, and I am also blind. When I first read the article with the help of my "talking" computer, I was under the impression that Hawaii would be inundated by a super tsunami once the super earthquake strikes the Northwestern United States--especially California and Oregon. This terrifies me because, as much as I love the ocean as a native of Hawaii, I became terrified of it once the super earthquake struck Japan and the resulting super tsunami nearly completely destroyed Sendai and its outlying areas. When I read that I'd have only 15 minutes to escape my home (if I need to), I became hysterically terrified! How should I prepare myself for this super tsunami that might (or would) hit Oahu? Are there any reputable online resources I could read to not only prepare myself but also calm my terror? I don't know what else to do.

With the hugh number of casualties, destruction of buildings etc. that is listed in the article, what actions are being taken for FEMA's preparededness as a whole & also for your region as well? The numbers that are given are astronimical - are we ready? (personnel for evacaution, take registrations, phone lines, shelters, buses, hospitals, food, lease of buildings, temporary agencies to actually recruit people to help & probably more importantly -- Money.

perfect love casts out all fear. we know that this day will come. don't be caught sleeping. give your life to Jesus and you will be safe whether you are here or with Him. this isn't our eternal home. this is our preparing place. He tells us that this day must come but don't be troubled. look up and take everyday as if it be your last. Romans 10 9-10 if you will confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus died and rose again you will be saved. With the mouth confession is made and with the heart we believe. Luke 21:11 tells us about thi day but don't fear amen.

A friend warned me of everything and anything west of I-5 is "toast" will be toast on February 6, 2016. I am in the process of writing to my family's in the NW and warn them of the big one. I feel that the Media should go national everyday and warn the people of the big one at least once a day on the Media and Radio. People should know so they can prepare to move to cities in the South where the devastating "Big One" is going to strike. I would like to thank you and my family thanks you for giving us a warning early. We are planning to vacate Seattle, because Seattle and Tacoma are going to be gone under water. It is going to be a bloody day for those who receive or learn about the "Big One" to late and do not get out of Tacoma and Seattle in enough time. God be with us all in these last days! Written by: Marylin J. Taylor/ Ran for State Senator, District 33, Sea Tac, Washington Constituent

Myself and my family are preparing for the "big one" God bless us all.

will the tsunami hit washougal washington if so will it still be strong

I live in lakewood wa by tacoma. how accurate is this info? are you telling me I need to get my things packed up in my house and get the hell out of the state now? or before febuary or i am toast? do you know this for sure? I just cant up and leave or i will get kicked off section 8. I would appreciate a response to my questions.

Thank you for your question. The New Yorker article outlines a worst case scenario. In Sacramento, the damage would likely be mild compared to populations further north, but indirect effects could range from power outages to economic hardship if the vital trade artery of Interstate 5 becomes impassible. You may want to read about the science behind damage projections from the Cascadia Region Earthquake Workgroup in their 9.0 earthquake scenario document - // The links above are excellent resources for preparing. In addition, contact your local emergency management office – in Sacramento, check out Sacramento County Emergency Services - //, and volunteer agencies such as the Sacramento Community Emergency Response Team - //, about how they are preparing, too.

Thank you for your questions. One of the best resources out there is the Cascadia Subduction Zone Earthquakes: A magnitude 9.0 earthquake scenario document - // - by the Cascadia Regional Earthquake Workgroup, of which FEMA is a consortium member. Portland will not be a coastal town and we do not expect direct tsunami impacts to the city. However, in past Cascadia events we find evidence of major shifts in ground elevation in localized areas. Such uplift, or subsidence, would be a likely outcome during the next subduction zone event. Ultimately, how much damage is inflicted and where it will specifically occur is dependent on many things such as where the epicenter of the earthquake is.

Thank you for your question. Concern about earthquakes is natural, but it will not make you more resilient or prepared. Now that you are aware, and asking good questions, it’s time to take action. There are many things you can do to protect your family and be more prepared! The links above are excellent resources for more information on earthquake and tsunami preparedness. We recommend having a kit – you know your family best, so plan for each member’s specific needs (including any pets!), making a family plan, and staying informed. goes into more depth on steps to take to prepare. In addition, you can contact your local emergency management office and volunteer agencies about how they are preparing, too.

Thank you for your question. FEMA worked with The New Yorker on multiple occasions during their research for this story. Kathryn’s depiction of the potential damages was based on conversations with FEMA staff as well as many other emergency management and scientific experts from various local, state and federal agencies.

Jane, the crystal balls are on back order. In all seriousness, the scenario that an earthquake will strike at 9:41 a.m. on February 6, 2016 is for the purposes of a preparedness and planning exercise only, and is not meant to be predictive of the exact date and time of the real event. No one knows the exact date and time that earthquakes will occur, only that they will.

Thank you for your question Shaina. The Cascadia Region Earthquake Workgroup’s document Cascadia Subduction Zone Earthquakes: A magnitude 9.0 earthquake scenario - // - characterizes the effects of a major subduction event for communities stretching from the Brooks Peninsula on Vancouver Island to Cape Mendocino in northern California. It is great that you are asking questions and educating yourself. Whether on the coast or places farther inland like Redding, preparedness is key. The links in the blog are excellent resources for information to begin. Please visit them. In addition, contact your local emergency management office and volunteer agencies about how they are preparing, too.

Thank you for your question Katie. If you want to know more about what “the big one” might look like, the Cascadia Region Earthquake Workgroup’s document Cascadia Subduction Zone Earthquakes: A magnitude 9.0 earthquake scenario - // - characterizes the effects of a major subduction event for communities stretching from the Brooks Peninsula on Vancouver Island to Cape Mendocino in northern California. Your concern for the welfare of your children and family is exactly why FEMA is doing its part to educate the public about the real possibility of a megaquake. Beaverton, Oregon will not experience a tsunami, but being prepared for an earthquake is imperative. One vital preparedness activity for everyone, especially families, is developing an emergency kit. Consider the needs of each family member, including your pets. Think about your daily activities; perhaps it makes sense to have an emergency kit at work, in your car, etc. Stock up enough supplies to last for 72 hours to start. This can be a great family preparedness activity since items can often be found around your home. The links I mentioned in the blog are excellent resources to begin preparing. Please visit them. In addition, contact your local emergency management office and volunteer agencies about how they are preparing.

Jolene, thank you for your comments. The good news is that the western half of the Cascadia tsunami will miss the Hawaiian Islands by a wide margin, but the tsunami risks for Hawaiian islands remain from other areas around the Pacific rim. Your concerns and questions are valid, but taking steps to prepare means you can reduce your risks. Learn your local tsunami evacuations routes - is a good place to start. Become familiar with your local emergency management offices and educate emergency managers on specific concerns such as the accessibility of routes, alerts and warnings. Educate planners on specific needs for the blind population such as implementing way finding tactics along the route. You can also visit for how you can prepare for "The Big One."

Tami, the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake and tsunami is one of the most complex disaster scenarios that emergency management and public safety officials face in the Pacific Northwest. Conducting successful life-saving and life-sustaining response operations in the aftermath of a Cascadia Subduction Zone disaster will hinge on the effective coordination and integration of governments at all levels – cities, counties, state agencies, federal officials, the military, tribal nations – as well as non-government organizations and the private sector. That's why we're organizing an exercise - Cascadia Rising - with the primary goals of training and testing a whole community approach to complex disaster operations together as a joint team. The culminating event will be a four-day functional exercise June 7-10, 2016. Emergency Operations and Coordination Centers (EOC/ECCs) at all levels of government and the private sector will activate to coordinate simulated field response operations both within their jurisdictions and also with neighboring communities, state EOCs, FEMA, and major military commands. You can get involved by having a plan in place, involving neighbors, and contacting your local emergency managers.

Pam, thank you for your questions. The information is accurate, but getting "the heck out of dodge" is not a realistic nor necessary action for most. Any place we live is has environmental risks, so wherever you are, make sure you're ready for the ones likely to affect where you live - // The February date is for a preparedness and planning exercise only. We don't know when it will strike, but we know that an earthquake will happen - it's always earthquake season.

Alyssa, Washougal, WA is outside of the tsunami inundation zone, but it will feel the effects of the earthquake. Communication, transportation, the power grid and other infrastructure will be impacted. It is important that you take steps to prepare - please visit to learn about what you can do. We also encourage you to visit other pages on to learn more about disaster preparedness.

Hey! Do you use Twitter? I'd like to follow you if that would be okay. I'm absolutely enjoying your blog and look forward to new updates.

No crystal balls, either they are just predicting it because of the shifts in ground, or the government my being starting it themselves. You ever ask fema why they ordered a million caskets?

This is a useful article and we all should be prepared . as a water damage restoration service , after finding this site , we will defiantly make sure to introduce it to our readers on our blog next month .

I live in the same area. And have the same concerns.

Any new updates? Feb 6th 2016 is this week... also, are the sink holes in Portland a red flag of something to come?

How will this earthquake affect Roseburg Oregon?

Whales and Earthquakes // //

So, it's Feb 7th, 2016 ... Nothing happened! Once again fear mongering about "The Big One" has done nothing but feed the draco and panicked the simple minded.

How will Hanford nucular plant withstand the big one?

What Ken means is that the area west of I5 will be very badly affected by the subduction quake. No, the land will not break off or disappear. The North American plate may drop 6 feet or so, but that means only low lying areas will then be under sea water. Portland will be badly damaged - landslides in the hillsides, and most of the bridges over the Willamette will be unusable. The power grid will be out for some time, maybe a year for the entire area, and that may include states east of Oregon and Washington. For some background on all this, go and watch some of the videos online at Outdoor Oregon has done a program on this as well.

Ms. Waggoner, please don't get too fearful. That said, what you can expect will depend on a. what your residence is constructed of and is it an apartment or a house, and b. if you are located on a steep hill or on flat land. Wood frame buildings built the last 15-20 years are probably going to fare well. Larger buildings have more chance of more damage due to the physics of the quake's ground waves. Get together several gallons of water (one gallon per person per day - only use for drinking), and at least three weeks of food would be my recommendation. Bimart sells a 7 gallon water jug for a reasonable sum, so 2-3 of those per person in your household would give you lots of water. Change the water every 6 months or so, and rinse the container with 10% bleach water solution before you put clean water in it. Good luck.

Why is the cascadia rising 2016 article blocked now what is usgs hiding I tried to get the article now it says it's been deleted

Get to your closest relative/close friend at higher ground. Don't wait until it's too late to move. Grab photos and important documents so they don't get lost. I wish you and everyone affected the best of luck!

I have an idea that I think would raise awareness and perhaps spur people on to maintain a state of readiness. Have the Washington State Lottery, or some other lottery that spanned more states, create a new game where the players bet on the date of the next Cascadia subduction zone fault quake. Maybe the proceeds could be used to set aside funds for related emergency response, evacuations, shelter and food, and recovery.