May 26, 2022

Will Your Data Center Survive a 9.2 Earthquake?

On January 26, 1700, a 9.2 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Oregon, Washington and Northern California along the Cascadia Subduction Zone creating a massive Tsunami that was recorded as far away as Japan. We know that it has been 320 years since the last Oregon subduction earthquake and that they occur every 300 to 500 years, so the “big one” is likely to happen again sometime during this century.

In this article, we will explore what it will take for a data center to survive such a catastrophic event. Most experts agree that everything west of the Cascade foothills in Oregon and Washington will be “toast” unless the structures have been built to adequate seismic building standards.

The first thing to ask when choosing a data center is what building standards were used to create the data center? Is it a commercial “tilt-up” type building like so many data centers are constructed, or has it been purpose-built to withstand an 8.0+ seismic event? Are the data center racks attached to concrete or a raised floor? If they’re using raised floors, has the flooring been seismically stabilized?

Floor Bracing Collapse

Access floors may collapse if not adequately braced and anchored. Equipment located on access floors that are not anchored or tethered may slide and hit a wall or other equipment and may suffer internal damage. Equipment castors can also get lodged in floor openings.

The illustration below shows how your equipment rack should be secured to a raised floor to be sure your equipment rack doesn’t topple or crash into walls during a seismic event. (Source: FEMA)

Equipment Raised Floor

Another factor to keep in mind is what is known as “soil liquefaction”. This can occur when your data center is not sited on solid bedrock. Entire buildings have been known to sink several feet into the ground on even relatively stable soil conditions during a major quake as shown in the illustrations below:

Building Collapse
Earthquake Diagram

Another important thing to consider is power delivery. While most data centers will have several days of backup power, will they be able to provide power for weeks and even months in some cases? One important factor for power delivery is proximity to the main power sources, as this will speed the recovery of power from the grid.

In the first diagram below, you can see from the Oregon State Geohazards viewer shows much of Portland and in particular, Hillsboro is in a highly hazardous geologic zone.

Portland Hazard Zone

By contrast, the geologic hazards viewer shows Bend and surrounding areas as very unlikely to have major damage from the Cascadia Subduction zone earthquake.

Bend Hazard Zone

In conclusion, having your data in safe zones makes sense for business owners and especially for governmental agencies and first responders needed during any kind of natural disaster. When the “big one” hits the Pacific Northwest, it will be even more important to keep your servers and eCommerce businesses running smoothly when an emergency arise.


To learn more about Fort Rock Data Center or to schedule a tour of Fort Rock Data Center facilities please contact us.

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