Earthquakes in Nevada

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Did you feel that? It is likely you have felt an earthquake while living in Nevada. Our state is ranked 3rd for experiencing earthquakes (behind Alaska & California), yet most are small events occurring everyday. Earthquakes result from sudden energy releases in the Earth’s crust, which create seismic waves that result in ground shaking. The Basin and Range Province is one of the most seismically active areas of North America because of active faulting that pulls the land apart and wrenches it sideways. A magnitude 3 or 4 earthquake can be felt but rarely causes damage. Magnitude 5 or 6 earthquakes can cause minor to moderate damage. The average frequency of  ≥6 magnitude earthquakes in Nevada has been about one every 10 years, while earthquakes ≥7 magnitude once every 27 years. In the 20th century there were seven magnitude 6.5 or larger earthquakes in Nevada – but none have occurred since 1954!

Where are the faults in Nevada?
The UNR Nevada Seismological Laboratory has found active earthquake faults in every part of Nevada. The area just east of the Sierras might have the most activity. There is an active fault at the base of nearly every mountain range in the state. So everyone in Nevada lives no more than several miles from an earthquake fault.

Do we have as much earthquake risk here in Nevada as they do in California?
Nevada could have earthquakes just as large as or larger than the Northridge or Loma Prieta earthquakes, but less than half as often. The UNR Nevada Seismological Laboratory does not expect magnitude 8 earthquakes here (like the 1906 San Francisco quake). However, earthquakes up to magnitude 7.5 are possible. The visible scar on the Genoa fault (in Douglas County by Wally’s Hot Springs) was a 7.5 magnitude and occurred 300 years ago.

How would an earthquake affect nurses?

Nurses would be involved with many aspects of disaster response from triage and acute treatment of injuries to post-event debriefing for mental health care and physical rehabilitation. Consider what if the hospital is structurally or functionally damaged? In 2006 a magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck the Big Island of Hawaii and cracked open the roof of one hospital and the ceiling collapsed in another. The nurses and team had panic on their hands while evacuating the patients, responding to injuries in the patients or staff, while continuing their regular nursing care. Patients were set up for care in the parking lot awaiting transfer to a hospital on the other side of the island. Triage tents were assembled for treating injuries in the local population. An important lesson we learned from Hurricane Katrina was that the reason some healthcare workers abandoned their hospitals was due to worry and concern for the safety of their own families. This is why it is so important that we as nurses develop a “Family Plan” for any disaster (see resource link below). Knowing that our loved ones are prepared and safe can allow us to focus on the work-at-hand and nurse effectively.

A ShakeMap of a recent earthquake in Nevada.
Credit: Nevada Seismological Survey & U.S.G.S. Earthquake Hazards Program

On October 17th at 10:17 in the morning we experienced the “Great Nevada Shakeout” drill. Many nurses across the state participated at their agency or at home with family members. According to the Shakeout’s recommended earthquake safety actions:
Do not try to move but immediately protect yourself as best as possible where you are. Earthquakes occur without any warning and may be so violent that you cannot run or crawl; you therefore will most likely be knocked to the ground. You will never know if the initial jolt will turn out to be start of the big one. You should Drop, Cover, and Hold On immediately! Do not run outside – stay inside and shelter.

If you are unable to Drop, Cover, and Hold On:

Physical limitations: If you have difficulty getting safely to the floor on your own, get as low as possible, protect your head and neck, and move away from windows or other items that can fall on you.
In a wheelchair: Lock your wheels and remain seated until the shaking stops. Always protect your head and neck with your arms, a pillow, a book, or whatever is available.
In bed: If you are in bed, hold on and stay there, protecting your head with a pillow. You areless likely to be injured staying where you are. Broken glass on the floor has caused injury tothose who have rolled to the floor or tried to get to doorways.
Outdoors: Move to a clear area if you can safely do so; avoid power lines, trees, signs, buildings, vehicles, and other hazards.
In a high-rise building: Drop, Cover, and Hold On. Avoid windows and other hazards. Do not use elevators. Do not be surprised if sprinkler systems or fire alarms activate.
In a store: When Shaking starts, Drop Cover and Hold On. A shopping cart or getting inside clothing racks can provide some protection. If you must move to get away from heavy items on high shelves, drop to the ground first and crawl only the shortest distance necessary. Whenever you enter any retail store, take a moment to look around: What is above and around you that could move or fall during an earthquake? Then use your best judgment to stay safe.
In a stadium or theater: Stay in your seat or drop to the floor between rows and protect your head and neck with your arms. Don’t try to leave until the shaking is over. Then walk out slowly watching for anything that could fall in the aftershocks.

Globally, earthquakes have killed thousands (2010 Haiti ~300,000 fatalities; 2004 Sumatra ~200,000 fatalities including tsunami). Since the turn of the 21st century, three times as many earthquake-related deaths have occurred since the preceding two decades (1980-2000). The deaths have mostly occurred in developing countries without proper building codes. Yet, less than 10% of international aid is directed towards disaster prevention. Our state is dedicated to offering primary health prevention activities and resources for all Nevadans. As nurses we know an ounce of prevention goes a long way. As advocates for our state’s population, we have an opportunity to educate and encourage preparedness for natural disasters with our patients each day. The situation is not” if” an earthquake will occur – it is “when.”



Real-time data on earthquakes in our state

The Family Earthquake Plan

Living with Earthquakes in Nevada

Earthquakes in Nevada and how to survive them

United States Geological Survey – Nevada Earthquake Information

Drop, Cover and Hold On resources 

Dr. Bernadette Mae Longo, RN
Environmental Health Committee - Chair
Orvis School of Nursing – University of Nevada Reno

Dr. Graham Kent
Director, Nevada Seismological Laboratory
Professor, University of Nevada Reno