Washington EMD Program Coordinator shares passion for volcanoes

By Joseph Siemandel, Joint Forces Headquarters, Washington National Guard on May 8, 2023

The Cascade Mountain range stretches nearly 1,200 miles from British Columbia to Northern California and is home to more than a dozen active volcanoes. That is enough to keep Brian Terbush, an Earthquake / Volcano Program Coordinator at the Washington Emergency Management Division (EMD) busy.

"The USGS monitors 161 active volcanoes in the U.S., but here in Washington we have five," said Terbush. "All of our volcanoes are actively monitored daily."

Terbush's path to EMD and becoming an expert in volcanoes started when he was young. He was able to travel with his parents and started looking at rocks and rock formations and realized how interesting they can be. He earned his bachelor's degree in geology and started working in Upstate New York staring at rocks.

"You realize rocks are pretty cool," said Terbush. "However, those rocks just aren't exploding enough."

That led him to Boise State where he received a master's degree and the opportunity to travel the world to study volcanoes. His passion and experience led him to Washington state and a job at EMD, where he has been for the past seven years.

"I've been fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel to and work on volcanoes around the world, Mexico, Guatemala, Japan, Ecuador and Colombia, and work with the locals to talk about their hazards," said Terbush. "It lead me to a career I love."

Terbush loves to share his knowledge of volcanoes and in May he is particularly busy. May is Volcano Awareness month in Washington state, a time for people in the Pacific Northwest to become familiar with volcano hazards in their communities and take steps to practice preparedness around volcanoes.

"We have beautiful mountains here in our state and just knowing more about them will help us understand the potential dangers," said Terbush.

Each of Washington's five major stratovolcanoes are still active. In fact, all of them except for Mount Adams have erupted in the last 250 years, with the most recent, most frequent and probably most well-known being Mt. St. Helens, located in southwest Washington. In spring of 1980, a series of phreatic blasts occurred from the summit and escalated until a major explosive eruption took place on May 18, 1980, at 8:32 a.m. It remains the most disastrous volcanic eruption in U.S. history, killing 57 people and causing $1.1 billion in damage.

"The eruption of St. Helens was so unique, imagine taking a soda can and shaking it up and opening the top, and it explodes up, but now take the same can and cut it diagonally with a knife and it explodes out," said Terbush. "The pressure built up and it had no release so it needed a way out."

While it is uncertain which, when and how the next volcano in the region will erupt, Terbush believes the most important thing for people to do is to learn about their risks.

"It is important to know evacuation routes, debris lahars, etc.," said Terbush. "It is all out there for the public and people in the field are happy to help you with your questions."