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Washington State University

CRESCENT Shakes: Unearthing Earthquake Science in the Pacific Northwest

Stephany RunningHawk Johnson is helping advance earthquake preparedness in the Pacific Northwest through the Cascadia Region Earthquake Science Center (CRESCENT)


The Pacific Northwest is no stranger to the looming threat of earthquakes. With the Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ) running along its coastline, the region faces the potential for devastating seismic events.

Subduction zones, such as the CSZ, are renowned for hosting the largest and most destructive earthquakes on the planet. The complex interplay of geological and geophysical factors within these zones gives rise to a wide range of cascading hazards, including tsunamis, landslides, and liquefaction. The CSZ has been a focal point for scientific investigation, leading to significant breakthroughs in earthquake physics and impact assessment. The proposed CRESCENT seeks to bring together a diverse community of researchers and stakeholders, leveraging existing knowledge and cutting-edge technologies to develop comprehensive models of earthquake systems.

But, thanks to a groundbreaking research initiative, the PNW is taking a significant step forward in earthquake preparedness. WSU College of Education faculty member Stephany RunningHawk Johnson is part of a team of researchers, fronted by the University of Oregon and Oregon State University, leading the Cascadia Region Earthquake Science Center (CRESCENT). It’s aim is clear: Consolidating decades of research data and developing a comprehensive understanding of subduction zone earthquakes.

Stephany RunningHawk Johnson smiling at camera while standing in front of some trees blocking the way to the Education Addition building.
Stephany RunningHawk Johnson is part of the CRESCENT team helping bolster the regions earthquake resiliency.
The Need for a Dedicated Center

The existing body of research on earthquakes has predominantly focused on transform fault systems like the San Andreas fault. However, subduction zones operate under fundamentally different conditions and exhibit unique earthquake processes. The CSZ offers a distinct opportunity for studying these processes due to its low-angle geometry and vast seismogenic fault area. By establishing CRESCENT, researchers aim to bridge the gap in understanding subduction zones and make significant strides in earthquake science.

Regional Importance and the Call for Resilience

The Pacific Northwest region, spanning three states and two countries, faces a host of cascading hazards in the aftermath of a large earthquake. While public awareness of these risks has grown, the region’s earthquake culture is still developing. Challenges such as unreinforced masonry, evacuation distances, and fragile infrastructure pose unresolved issues that undermine public safety and resilience. The CRESCENT project recognizes the urgent need to address these challenges and ensure the region’s preparedness for future events.

Education and Workforce Development

A key aspect of CRESCENT’s mission is to cultivate a diverse future geoscience workforce. Recognizing the imperative of social justice, the center will collaborate with minority-serving institutions in the Pacific Northwest, national pedagogical institutions, and ancestral inhabitants to foster inclusivity in geoscience education. The center will also employ state-of-the-art methods, including data science, artificial intelligence, fiber-optic sensing, and high-rate geodesy, to train the next generation of researchers and practitioners in earthquake hazards.

Collaboration and Stakeholder Engagement

CRESCENT aims to build strong partnerships with regional tribal nation organizations, federal, state, and local governments, agencies, utilities, civil organizations, and non-governmental organizations. These collaborations will ensure that the center’s research aligns with the interests and needs of stakeholders. By integrating the knowledge and expertise of various entities, CRESCENT strives to create a cohesive earthquake science community that works towards a common goal of enhancing resilience.


The establishment of the Cascadia Region Earthquake Science Center (CRESCENT) marks a significant milestone in earthquake preparedness for the Pacific Northwest. By consolidating research efforts, fostering collaboration, and addressing critical knowledge gaps, CRESCENT will drive advancements in subduction zone earthquake science. The center’s comprehensive approach, encompassing research, education, and stakeholder engagement, will not only benefit the region but also provide transferable knowledge applicable to other subduction zones globally. Through CRESCENT’s efforts, the Pacific Northwest can work towards a safer, more resilient future in the face of seismic events.

  • Daniell, J. E., et al. (2011). Subduction earthquakes. Nature Education Knowledge, 3(10), 48.
  • Walton, M. A. L., Staisch, L. M., et al. (2021). Insights into the Cascadia Subduction Zone from the Eocene Siletz River Volcanics. Geosphere, 17(5), 1381-1395.
  • Belenky, V., et al. (2014). Economic analysis of seismic hazards in the Pacific Northwest. The Earthquake Engineering Online Archive, 21(6), 1-21.
  • NASEM (2020). A Vision for NSF Earth Sciences 2020-2030: Earth in Time.
  • Petersen, M. D., et al. (2020). The 2018 USGS National Seismic Hazard Model: Overview of improvements and implications for future seismic hazard assessments. Seismological Research Letters, 91(3), 1213-1229.

Kathryn Sheridan-Stiefel earns fellowship

Special Education doctoral candidate Kathryn Sheridan-Stiefel was awarded a graduate student fellowship from the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service. In addition to the aid it will give Kathryn in continuing her research, it also comes with a $1,500 award.

The Foley fellowships are open to currently enrolled WSU graduate students, in any discipline. The fellowships are aimed at students who are in the later stages of their graduate education, to enable completion of research projects. The summer fellowships will be awarded to graduate students that apply to at least one of the following categories:

  • Conducting research in the area of just and sustainable societies and policies.
  • Seeking to enhance their public policy research skills and pursue a research agenda focusing on major policy issues.
  • Conducting research in the area of political institutions and democracy.
Kathryn’s research

Kathryn said she was “extremely grateful for the support to complete this research project!”

We had the chance to sit down with her and ask her about some of the specifics.

We had the chance to sit down with Kathryn and ask her some questions about the fellowship and what it will help her do.

Question: What is the focus of your research?

Answer: My research focuses on evidence-based practices for increasing and optimizing the inclusion of students with intellectual and developmental (IDD) disabilities in both K-12 and postsecondary education settings. Because students with these types of disabilities are the most likely to receive their education in a segregated setting, my research also focuses on how special education and disability policy (such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, and Every Student Succeeds Act) currently contribute to the continued exclusion of children with complex support needs in community schools. At this time, the research literature that examines the implementation, outcomes and perceptions of special education policy very rarely considers the viewpoints of students with IDD–whose lived experience is integral to understanding how inclusive systems can be improved.

Question: How will the fellowship help you in your research?

Answer: The Foley Fellowship will help me complete a retrospective interpretive phenomenological analysis that allows for young adults with disabilities to provide critical insight regarding how special education policy is implemented and perceived by students for whom these policies are designed.

Question: Specifically, what part of the fellowship will help with what components of the research?

Answer: The fellowship will allow me to purchase transcription software, equipment, and compensation gifts for 10-12 participants, as well as provide compensation for additional coders. These tools and resources will allow for me to complete a comprehensive and rigorous study within an efficient timeframe. The use of transcription software and equipment will provide me with the tools to record and transcribe interviews, becoming fully immersed in the data. Additionally, funds for compensation gifts and hiring additional coders will allow me to work with and appropriately compensate a team of participants and co-researchers.

The fellowship is available thanks to the generous gifts of Scott and Betty Lukins, the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Foundation, and Alice O. Rice.