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Regional Risks: Western U.S.

Earthquakes, Wildfires Are
Biggest Risk in the West

If you live in the western United States, you are most at risk for earthquakes and wildfires. Heavy winter storms are also common throughout the United States and could lead to flooding, especially if you live near a creeks or rivers.

Understanding your risks and creating disaster plans in advance can help prepare you to save lives and minimize loss and damages to your property.


An earthquake is a sudden shaking or movement of the ground due to shifts in the earth's tectonic plates (outermost crust). Earthquakes are not common occurrences. However, they can be very disruptive because they occur suddenly and tend to affect large areas. Earthquakes can be a one-time event of a few seconds shaking or a series of events of varying duration. They can cause extensive damage to property and loss of life. Earthquakes can cause tsunamis if the hypocenter (starting point) of the earthquake is in the ocean.

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A wildfire is an uncontrolled fire burning in a wilderness area or countryside. Wildfires can happen anywhere in the United States but are most common in the West. Lightning strikes can also cause wildfires and unfortunately most are started by careless human behavior. Wildfires are extremely dangerous they can spread quickly, burn through large areas and change direction without warning.

As more individuals and businesses move into rural areas, more people and property are at risk from the dangers of wildfires. The risk for property damage is higher near wilderness areas or if a home is closely surrounded by vegetation that is particularly flammable. Wildfire risk also increases if there is a long period without rain.

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Flooding is one of the most common natural disasters in the United States and can affect the entire country not just one region. A flood can occur due to severe storms and hurricanes. The risk of flooding is higher near bodies of water, downstream from a dam or in low-lying areas.

Floods can happen slowly or, in some cases, very suddenly, as in the case of flash floods. Flash floods happen when the ground can't absorb the amount of water that has fallen on it. They are especially dangerous because they happen without warning and often carry a lot of debris with them. Many people underestimate the power of a flood and try to cross streams or flooded areas in their vehicles only to get swept away by the water. It only takes one foot of water to float most vehicles, and only two feet of rushing water to sweep away most SUVs.

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