LOS ANGELES — Renowned California seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones spoke to Los Angeles District employees April 15, at the invitation of the District’s Emergency Operations Center. As the U.S. Geological Survey’s Science Advisor for Risk Reduction, Jones spends a lot of time analyzing the world’s earthquakes and aftermath in an attempt to help minimize the impact of future quakes.
Jones confirmed it is only a matter a time until an earthquake with a magnitude greater than 7 is experienced in Southern California and causes damage throughout the entire region. She said, according to predictive models, the area is already overdue.
Concerns about the inevitable damage following such a quake led to the development of the ShakeOut Earthquake Scenario, a comprehensive study of a magnitude-7.8 earthquake by scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, Southern California Earthquake Center, California Geological Survey, and by various experts. The study formed the basis of The Great Southern California ShakeOut, the largest earthquake readiness campaign in U.S. history.
The study scenario involved a rupturing of the southern San Andreas Fault for more than 200 miles, with an epicenter on the northeast side of the Salton Sea in Imperial County, producing more than 100 seconds of shaking throughout Southern California. In some areas, the shaking and shifting of ground would likely shove houses off foundations and send unsecured furniture flying. It was estimated that the shaking would be more than 50 times worse than the shaking caused by the Northridge earthquake and would inevitably result in fires, twisted roads and rail, power outages, communication failures, and loss of food and water supplies.
“The San Andreas Fault was selected because it is the biggest and fastest moving of the hundreds of other California faults that could produce earthquakes larger than a magnitude of 6,” Jones said. “The high concentration of faults in and around Los Angeles County translates into the area having one-fourth of all the seismic risk in the United States. At any given time in Southern California, a person is within 10 miles of an active fault.”
The study can be found in a document called Putting down roots in earthquake country at: http://www.earthquakecountry.info/roots/index.php.
Jones acknowledged the devastating impacts the scenario quake would have on modern society. She said the fires will double the losses, both deaths and financial. People’s dependence on utilities, including cell phones, will leave them in the dark, figuratively and literally. Food conveyance will be interrupted, and stores no longer have large storage capacity for refrigerated items. Finally, water will be the biggest problem of all. The study estimates that it will take six months to get water restored, and much longer where entire water systems need to be reconstructed.
“Understanding possible destruction allows us to make choices today,” she said. “We need to strengthen our infrastructure, implement earthquake early warning systems and include disaster planning in our decisions.”
Both Jones and the study tout the importance of “preparing” to survive a disaster and promote seven steps to follow: create a plan; secure items in the home; strengthen the home; prepare disaster kits in advance; survive by dropping, covering and holding on during a quake; check for injuries afterward; and follow the plan.
“The majority of earthquake deaths come from falling ‘things,’” Jones said. “If I was in this building during an earthquake, I would get away from the windows and get under a desk, or table; or, I would go to a stairwell.”
Unfortunately, she said, the best building codes in the world do nothing for buildings built before the codes were enacted, and, while codes have been updated, many older buildings are still in place.