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 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.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

So how did Matt react to the largest jolt in 10 years? (1/4/2018 Hayward fault quake)

As those in the SF Bay Area could not help but notice, we had a small but intense earthquake in the early morning of January 4th, a 4.4 on the Hayward Fault located near UC Berkeley. As far as I'm concerned, it was still late night January 3rd because I was still up, working in my den at home.

I have not been posting much recently because I've been so busy, but wanted to make this quick post because it's interesting to note how I reacted during this quake, given how much I think about these things.

First of all, the article title that mentions the largest jolt in 10 years is referring to the way it felt to me, here in the Outer Richmond District of San Francisco, near the ocean and the offshore San Andreas Fault. The 6.0 Napa quake in 2014 was quite a bit larger than this 4.4 and it did far more damage, but to me in San Francisco's Mission Bay district at the time, it was pretty mild and I even slept through most of it, just groggily waking up at the end. In contrast, this was sudden and intense where I was. Some people have described it as rolling but in my home, it shook us with a very fast side-to-side motion, not gentle at all. In fact, it was distressing enough that for the first time since the 5.4 quake further south in the East Bay in 2007, I was seriously considering that this could be the beginning of a major quake.

(By the way, for anyone who was here in this earthquake and has not experienced a larger one, it would be worthwhile to review my article about small quakes and what they mean.)

So how did I react? Did I practice what I preach? Well, yes and no. I successfully made use of "situational awareness," which I wrote about 2016. This is the practice of being aware of your surroundings and making last-minute judgement calls about what needs to be done that may not be consistent with the default generic advice. Milo the Dog was in the den with me resting on a cushion on the other side of the room, and the first thing I did (to my credit) after the few seconds of realizing that this was actually happening was to look at him. He was freaking out and looked like he was about to bolt, and not knowing what would happen next, I did what I had told myself I would do in the past: I scooped him up in my arms and prepared to take him with me to get under the desk, rather than have him run into some less safe place. The quake ended before I could even start to get under the desk.

Ok, that's good. But actually I did NOT do the other things that I had practiced in my mind many times before, the steps I planned to take if a quake occurred while working at my laptop in my office. My plan has been to first shut the laptop lid (the laptop is not stuck down for obvious reasons and this would help protect it from damage), and to grab my iPhone on my way to wherever I went so that it would be with me. I did neither of those things; didn't even think about them until the quake was over.

I guess that must mean I put Milo ahead of all other considerations, which is nice, but it would have taken 1 extra second to shut the laptop and grab the phone, and would still be worth doing. Of course, remember that if I had had a flame going somewhere, like a candle or something simmering on the stove, the first thing to do would be to put it out.

The other thing that kind of annoyed me is that I forgot to follow the current advice ("drop, cover, hold on"), which is to drop down to the floor and cover your head before moving to wherever you need to go.  This prevents you from being knocked down by the shaking or hit by something before you get to your safe spot.  Darn it, we keep saying the words and doing the drills but in that moment, I was focused on Milo and the need to get to him as quickly as possible.  I actually think that if I had dropped down, I might not have reached him before he ran, so it was probably the right thing to do, but if the quake was much larger, this could have been a problem.  Perfection is difficult to achieve!


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