Matt Springer has been giving presentations around San Francisco about home earthquake preparedness since 2008 (for more information about the presentation, go to his earthquake preparedness website). This Quaketips blog is devoted to posts ranging from technical "how-to" articles to more philosophical "should-you" topics. New articles will be posted at most about once a month, so people who subscribe won't be subjected to lots of e-mail.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

"Why the heck do you live in that place with earthquakes??"

While some might question the wisdom of living near earthquake faults, it's notable that California is pretty far down on the list of historical disasters in this country.  Hurricanes and flooding in cities like New Orleans, Galveston, Miami, etc. have been much more disruptive, tornadoes and killer winter storms certainly wreak their havoc on a regular basis, domestic and external terrorism in places like New York and Oklahoma City have been very disruptive, and even the 1906 San Francisco earthquake did more damage by starting a fire than it did by shaking.  We haven't had an earthquake of that size (about 7.8 magnitude) in over 100 years, although we certainly could have one again.  The notable earthquakes in the state over the past century have typically killed about 50 people each, which is tragic, but is a small number compared to the number of casualties of many other typical causes; and this number will hopefully shrink as building construction and personal preparation continue to evolve.  And by the way, did you know that the area around Arkansas and Missouri, and the South Carolina region, are both very seismically active, and that there have occasionally been sizable earthquakes every few hundred years in Boston, New York, and Connecticut?

It's also worth pointing out, in the wake of the massive 2011 Japan earthquake (9.0) and the almost-as-large Chile earthquake (8.8) the year before that geologists are saying that the faults in the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas are probably not capable of experiencing such massive events.  These faults, caused by tectonic plates that slide against each other, probably can only trigger up to about an 8 (the Richter scale and similar systems are log scales; you go up by 1, and the quake is 10 times larger).  In contrast, the fault systems in places like Japan, Chile, Indonesia, the Himalayas, Alaska, and the extreme north of California by Oregon that have given rise to the truly massive quakes in history (8.8-9.5 magnitude) are subduction zones, where one plate dives under another plate and creates a much bigger event.  So San Francisco probably will never experience something so massive, which is a bit of a consolation, but we should still take precautions against the problems that can occur from quakes like San Francisco 1906 or the 1989 Loma Prieta quakes.

Those in other parts of the country might say that at least they have advance warning about the hurricanes, etc.  That has not prevented large-scale disruption, damage, and loss of life caused by some of these hurricanes.  Plus, it's like I say in my talks, we DO have advance warning about earthquakes; we just have it much farther in advance than for the other, there's going to be an earthquake, do something about it!  There, you've been warned.

For information about the precautions you can take, many of which are quite simple, check out my earthquake preparedness website.  And no, I have no financial stake in any of this...

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  1. Caroline in San FranciscoMay 26, 2011 at 7:48 PM

    Hello, found your blog through Cole Hardware's monthly newspaper (the 5/11 issue). Thanks for writing such thoughtful and useful posts. Look forward to reading your future posts.

  2. Thanks Caroline, much appreciated!


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