The last major Seattle earthquake happened in 2001. The strong shaking reached a magnitude of 6.8, and in only 40 seconds, it managed to cause 1 billion dollars worth of damage. It’s been almost 20 years since then, and nothing even close to this quake happened. Even so, scientists have been recording regular movements since April, but the people felt none of them.

In the same time, the Seattle real estate market was reaching milestone after milestone. After several market booms, the Seattle high-rises developed so much that the downtown became a select area filled with skyscrapers. The tallest building measures 286 meters, and it has 76 stories. All together, downtown Seattle holds around 13 high-rise towers.

After mentioning these Seattle facts and putting them together, the question is: what if a large scale earthquake happens when you are in the Seattle high-rise? With the new Seattle earthquakes news emerging and the city developing so fast, there are some potential dangers that no one can ignore. Thankfully, technology allows people to track down the quakes and their activity. But people should acknowledge that they should prepare and train as well. This article has the purpose of informing people about Seattle earthquakes and the potential risks of high-rise buildings in this kind of situation, and ways to oversee and overcome the shakes as well.


Seattle Earthquakes Explained

Seattle earthquake

What makes Seattle earthquakes a regular prime-time topic is the city’s location. Seattle locates in the Pacific Northwest and resides on three potential risk areas from a geologic point of view. The three regions are also known as the Cascadia subduction zone. Subduction zones explained more quickly, are boundaries marking the crash between two tectonic plates, forcing one under the other. This action causes large force amounts to rise as the plate friction control the movement. When the friction can’t hold this force back anymore, the tectonic plates slide, causing the actual earthquake. Cascadia is threatening because it can trigger earthquakes followed by tsunamis. In the past years, authorities recorded fault movements that occurred more often than usual.

Another factor that increases the Seattle earthquake risk is the basin that underlies the city. The Seattle Basin contains mostly glacial sediments and loose soils. So, in case of tremors, think of Seattle as a jelly bowl because the basin only amplifies the shakings.

Putting one and one together, experts predict a mega Seattle earthquake in the near future. The USGS  expects a magnitude of 9 and tremors that will last up to two minutes. Let’s take account of the fact that this earthquake can last four times longer than an average quake does. Therefore, tall buildings like high-rises are very endangered.


High-Rises and Earthquake Risks

Seattle earthquake

After residents learned that Seattle earthquakes are unusual because of Seattle’s landscape and geology, new seismic standards for high-rise and tall buildings are in the works. Studies show that skyscrapers could take the hardest hit if a Seattle earthquake erupts.

New buildings in the Seattle area beneficiate of boosted earthquake standards. The standards require a stronger infrastructure for tall buildings, that meet current seismic codes.  The building code allows a 10% percent chance of collapse for new high-rises. This statement means that the critical prevention made by this code is loss of life. However, structural damage is included in this 10% percent and can affect a lot of people. Engineers say that in case of a Seattle earthquake, the new high-rises will not collapse and will not be severely affected.

The buildings that are more vulnerable if a Seattle earthquake hits are the old ones. Older high-rises have steel or reinforced concrete frames, and most of them emerged between 1960 and 1994. Civil engineers in the area have already stated that these tower buildings construction includes defective welds. A few of the most important high-rise buildings in Seattle have this kind of welds. For example, the Mexico City earthquake of 1985 occurred more than 200 miles away from Seattle, and it still managed to cause significant damage. Because the Seattle Basin amplifies every geo-movement, around 400 buildings collapsed, most of them being high-rises. Unfortunately, even if the Seattle earthquake risk is high, officials didn’t evaluate any of the old high-rises to find out which are the most vulnerable.


What Should People Do?

Seattle earthquake

With all of the Seattle earthquake warnings going on, people should know what to do and what not to do. If the strong shakings begin while you are in a high-rise building or if you live in one, you should consider some aspects.

The golden rule for earthquakes is ” drop, cover and hold on.” and Seattle earthquakes are no exception. If shaking begins do not try to leave the building and seek for the closest retreat instead. Evacuation in case of a shock should happen only after the emergency passed or if instructed to do so. Earthquakes typically last a few seconds to one or two minutes. So if you try to leave a high-rise during a Seattle earthquake do you have enough time to make it? Debris is falling everywhere and asides this, the floor and staircases are moving unpredictably as well. If you do make it outside the building, take account that falling facades, glass, and other materials can hurt and kill people around the skyscraper during a quake.

Also, you don’t know how massive the shaking will be. Even if nowadays early earthquake warning systems are available, you never know what will happen next, especially in case of a Seattle earthquake. So, instead of walking or running, look for the closest retreating spot. A study in Japan shows that with every three meters we try to take during an earthquake, our chances of getting injured are significantly growing. Try to protect yourself from falling objects by taking cover under a sturdy place like a desk or a table.



In conclusion,  if you are involved in a Seattle earthquake while in a high-rise building, always take responsibility for your own safety. In case the high-rise is your working place, learn about the building’s safety features like evacuation plans or alarm response. If officials make announcements, always listen and follow their directions. If you are told to evacuate the high-rise, do it immediately and then go to the nearest meeting point.

Even if Seattle earthquakes represent a significant threat to the city’s residents, learning about them and how to prevent possible damages can go a long way and surely help Seattle’s citizens.


About SkyAlert USA

Given the Seattle earthquake history and development, Sky Alert’s foundation came with the mission of preventing and reducing human loss and economic damage when this natural hazard strikes. The company laid its first bricks in 2011, and eight years later, we protect over 400 businesses and more than one million people. SkyAlert recently developed an early earthquake warning mobile app that is soon to be available in Washington, California, and Oregon. Together with customized plans for companies, we provide the SkyAlert Epicentre technology, that can pause production or open emergency doors in case of strong shakings.

For cities like Seattle, where quakes can hit anytime, we offer solutions like drill management and earthquake reports that help companies and their staff and people in general. Instead of worrying about the next Seattle earthquake, let SkyAlert protect you and your business from any problems or damage.

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