Idaho Geological Survey Helps Prepare Idahoans to Shake, Rattle and Roll

Thursday, October 1 2009

Written by Ken Kingery

MOSCOW, Idaho – There may be one local issue Californian migrants actually do know more about – earthquake safety. But it is a knowledge gap that the Idaho Geological Survey is working to close.

Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter announced today that October will be Earthquake Awareness Month in Idaho. As part of this effort, the IGS – a special program of the University of Idaho – worked with the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security and the department of geological sciences at the University of Idaho to develop the booklet, "Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country, Your Handbook for Earthquakes in Idaho."

The booklet will be inserted into the Sunday, Oct. 25, newspapers of Boise, Nampa/Caldwell, Twin Falls, Pocatello and Idaho Falls, in addition to being available online and via e-mail.

"Damaging earthquakes have occurred in Idaho and may again at any time in the future; a fact that is not widely appreciated by Idahoans," said Bill Phillips, research geologist for the IGS. "Large earthquakes happen here infrequently – but they do happen – and people forget the lessons learned by their parents or grandparents."

The lessons Phillips refers to are the two largest recorded earthquakes in the northern Rocky Mountains. In 1959, one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded in the lower 48 states – 7.3 on the Richter scale - originated near Hebgen Lake, Mont., less than five miles from the Idaho border near West Yellowstone. Then, in 1983, a magnitude 6.9 earthquake shook Borah Peak killing two children in Challis and causing an estimated $26.7 million in damage in the Challis-Mackay area.

Though these major disasters are infrequent, Idaho experienced 404 earthquakes magnitude 3.5 and greater between 1974 and 2003, sixth most in the U.S. For these reasons, the IGS conducts research to document the location of active faults and estimate the size, frequency of occurrence, and intensity of ground shaking from past earthquakes. This information is used to educate the public as well as inform the efforts of engineers, policymakers, and emergency managers to reduce damage and injures from future earthquakes.

The information gathering capabilities of the IGS was recently improved with two state-of-the-art seismic stations placed in western Idaho near McCall and Boise.

The McCall station was constructed by the U.S. Geological Survey in late August in response to years of earthquake activity in the Valley County region. In 2005, an earthquake swarm struck the area with five magnitude 4 events and many thousands of smaller tremors.

The Boise station was purchased by IGS in 2008 with BHS funding. In September, the U.S. Geological Survey agreed to permanently operate the station as part of its Intermountain West seismic network, ensuring long-term, high-quality monitoring for Idaho’s most populous region.

Seismic monitoring is a vital component of earthquake hazard management. Modern monitoring stations detect, locate and determine the size of earthquakes using near-real-time, 24/7 data transmission. When large earthquakes occur, crucial information for emergency managers is available in minutes on the Internet and as cell phone and e-mail messages. Seismic monitoring also helps scientists and engineers better understand the causes and consequences of seismicity.

To obtain a copy of the booklet and learn more about earthquake preparation, e-mail or download a digital copy on the IGS Web site at  
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About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 130 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. For information, visit  

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit