Why are so many people unprepared?
No part of the world is immune to disaster. Every place where people live is susceptible to one catastrophe or another. In each place, people prepare. Residents in tornado alley have storm shelters. People who face blizzards have provisions made. But there is one place where nobody is prepared: California.
Los Angeles is about to suffer the largest catastrophe in the city's history, yet millions remain unprepared.
LOS ANGELES, CA -The greatest disaster California faces is drought, but drought doesn't get much attention because it's not as dramatic as California's other disaster, earthquakes.
California is known for earthquakes. The quake is up there with Hollywood, surfing, and Disneyland. Sometimes, Hollywood makes blockbusters about earthquakes. Everyone is shocked at scenes that reveal massive gashes in the earth and high-rise office buildings collapsing, as fiction, it's great entertainment.
Despite these Hollywood warnings, Californians are ill prepared for a major quake. Even with hundreds of small, local quakes to jolt people into their senses, only ten percent of Californians have earthquake insurance, and that number is in decline. It has fallen by half since the 1989 World Series quake.
Key infrastructure in the state is insulated against a major quake. New construction takes major quakes into account. Old construction has been retrofitted. But this alone is not protection from the big one.
The big one is expected to last for two minutes. That's a lot longer than the fifteen seconds or so that Californians experience in moderate quakes. A quake that lasts 30-40 seconds is regarded as major. Structures can survive moderate quakes. They can be specially built to withstand 40 seconds of shaking. But when shaking ranges into the minutes, all bets are off.
The big one will deliver aftershocks that are almost as powerful as the main shock. Aftershocks will begin within minutes of the main quake and will repeatedly strike for weeks afterward, although their intensity and frequency will diminish.
These aftershocks will halt rescue efforts and disrupt everything each time for several days afterward. Some structures can fail in the aftershocks.
Given these facts, why aren't residents prepared? Even SWAT Teams are Helpless Against This...
The reason has to do with emotions and the fact that people tend to ignore things they cannot avoid. Many Californians are skeptical that such a quake will impact their life, or happen at all.
Experts have predicted a major quake in California for a century or more, and after decades of waiting, most people have dismissed the periodic warnings. It's a case of crying wolf too many times.
Yet the research published this year, predicting the quake within the next thirty years, is based on the latest research. That work takes into account over a thousand years of geologic history, carefully gleaned from trenches dug directly into the San Andreas. It's the first study of its kind in that section of the fault.
A quake does not have to collapse a structure to destroy it; it merely has to shift it a few inches, or twist the right support just enough. Structures can appear superficially undamaged, only to be lost in an aftershock, or be condemned upon later inspection.
The primary cost to Californians will be economic. And while millions assume the government will bail them out following the disaster, they are mistaken. There remains to this day, wards in New Orleans that are ruined from Hurricane Katrina.
The state is taking some measures. An early warning system will begin deployment in 2018, although roll-out will be slow. The system may provide a few seconds of warning to people, enough to take cover, stop commuter trains and slow traffic on the freeways.
The state also holds an annual statewide earthquake drill, in which millions of people participate.
It's time for families to prepare and practice because when the big one hits, it will be more powerful than anything living Californians have experienced before. The impacts will be profound and will change millions of lives. The only protection is to be prepared, though practice, preparation, insurance, and good common sense.
THE SAN ANDREAS FAULT : MASSIVE EARTHQUAKE ALONG THE SAN ANDREAS FAULT IS DISTURBINGLY IMMINENT
COACHELLA VALLEY, Calif. (KSAZ) - Just a few months ago scientists announced the San Andreas Fault is due for another major earthquake, specifically in Southern California where there hasn't been a major quake since 1857.
The Coachella Valley near Palm Springs could be one of the areas hardest hit.
In the arid, sweltering Coachella Valley lies the southern part of the San Andreas, one of the most dangerous faults in the world. Experts say this area has been quiet for far too long.
"On the Southern end of the San Andreas Fault we've not had a major one in years," said Phil La Greca of Desert Adventure Red Jeep Tours.
Phil La Greca leads FOX 10 right into the fault on a Desert Adventures Jeep Tour.
Driving through the Indio Hills we straddle two tectonic plates; the Pacific Plate under Palm Springs and the North American Plate under Arizona. Where the two plates meet you find the San Andreas Fault.
"The misnomer in the SA fault it's a big ioen crack, it's not. It's those 2 plates are moving together and whenever you get a little movement in that plate a crack or something like that, that's an earthquake," said La Greca.
The fault zone ranges from 100 feet to two miles wide. Each of the plates moving two inches a year, crushing rock and stone between.
"If you take an Oreo cookie and you squeeze and Oreo cookie together the cream comes up. That's how these hills were formed," said La Greca.
That "cream filling" is called "fault gouge" - the soft foundation of these tall walls.
There has not been a major quake here 300 years. And one expert says the fault's "locked, loaded and ready to go".
"Remember I told you we had nothing to worry about over there if we had an earthquake?"
Inside the Horseshoe "slot canyon" you'll find towering walls smoothed by wind and water. And eroded pockets, large enough to sit in.
It cannot be said with 100 percent certainty that this is where the Pacific plate and the North American plate meet.
The fault zone isn't all rocks and dust, it also has a has a "Palm Oasis" packed with California Fan Palms.
"It's almost like a jungle here right in the middle of the desert. There's water coming right up from the ground," said La Greca.
This entire dessert, green and grey, sees two to three hundred quakes a week. Most too small to feel.
"While we were having almost 800 in California and Nevada, you only had it looks like 3 in the entire state of Arizona. So you guys are okay. We are the ones who have to worry more than you do," said La Greca.
There are several faults that run through Arizona. As for the recent earthquakes that have been seen in Arizona, geologists still are not sure which fault caused them. The closest is the Horseshoe Fault which is 22 miles southeast of Black Canyon City.
There’s a crack in California. It stretches for 800 miles, from the Salton Sea in the south, to Cape Mendocino in the north. It runs through vineyards and subway stations, power lines and water mains.
Millions live and work alongside the crack, many passing over it (966 roads cross the line) every day. For most, it warrants hardly a thought. Yet in an instant, that crack, the San Andreas fault, could ruin lives and cripple the national economy.
In one scenario produced by the United States Geological Survey, researchers found that a big quake along the San Andreas could kill 1,800 people, injure 55,000 and wreak $200 million in damage. It could take years, nearly a decade, for California to recover.
On the bright side, during the process of building and maintaining all that infrastructure that crosses the fault, geologists have gotten an up-close and personal look at it over the past several decades, contributing to a growing and extensive body of work. While the future remains uncertain (no one can predict when an earthquake will strike) people living near the fault are better prepared than they have ever been before.
The Trouble With Faults
All of the land on earth, including the ocean floors, is divided into relatively thin, brittle segments of rock that float on top of a much thicker layer of softer rock called the mantle. The largest of these segments are called tectonic plates, and roughly correspond with the continents and subcontinents of the earth.
The San Andreas fault is a boundary between two of these tectonic plates. In California, along the fault, the two plates–the Pacific plate and the North American plate–are rubbing past each other, like you might slip by someone in a crowded room. The Pacific plate is moving generally northwest, headed towards Alaska and Japan, while the North American plate heads southwest.
In a simplified, ideal world, this movement would happen easily and smoothly. Because it covers such a large area, not all of the fault moves at the same time. In the middle, things are moving rather smoothly, with part of the Pacific plate gliding by the North American plate with relative ease, a segment that scientists say is ‘creeping’.
It’s at the northern and southern extremes where things get tricky. The real problems begin when the plates get stuck, or wedged together.
Visions Of A Disaster
The fear of a huge earthquake from the San Andreas devastating the west coast has been rich fodder for disaster films, including Superman and, more recently, San Andreas. The good news is that the worst-case scenarios in those films are completely impossible. California will not sink into the sea, and even the largest possible earthquake is short of anything that the Rock had to wrestle with.Do You Make These Fatal Mistakes In A Crisis?
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But disasters have happened.
In 1906, the northern segment of the fault, near the city of San Francisco, ruptured along nearly 300 miles, causing a huge earthquake that led to fires, downed buildings, and thousands of casualties. The death toll was between 700 and 2,800.
Meanwhile, other segments of the fault, like one south of Los Angeles that hasn’t seen a large earthquake since 1690, are considered stalled. Centuries of energy are built up and ready to be released. When? Nobody knows.
Recent analyses suggest that in a worst-case scenario, the San Andreas would beget an earthquake ranking an 8.3 on the Richter scale, a logarithmic scale on which a 6.0 is ten times as powerful as a 5.0, a 7.0 ten times as powerful as a 6.0, and so forth. To put that in context, earthquakes under 2.5 are rarely felt. Earthquakes under 6.0 can cause some damage to buildings, but aren’t major events. Above that level things start to get interesting. The largest recorded quake in the United States was a 9.2 earthquake that hit Alaska in 1964.
“That would require the San Andreas to rupture wall to wall from its southern extremis to up to Cape Mendocino,” says Tom Jordan, the director of the Southern California Earthquake Center at The University of Southern California,. He explains that the creeping segment in the middle acts as a buffer, making the 8.3-magnitude earthquake much less plausible than some other options.
Even if the 8.3 earthquake never materializes, scientists worry that a rupture along the long-inactive southern segment could be devastating, compounded by the large population in the area. The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that shook San Francisco was only a 6.9, but it caused billions of dollars in damage injured over 3,000 people, and killed 63.
“The San Andreas lies close to the coastline where people live,” Jordan says. The valleys along the coast that proved so enticing to the settlers who founded cities like Los Angeles are large areas of sedimentary rock that could be hugely problematic in an earthquake.
“Even though L.A. is 30 miles from the San Andreas, it can still get very strong ground motion,” Jordan says. “The sediments shake like bowls of jelly.”
But even just a medium-bad scenario could be enough to kill hundreds and ruin the economy.
Researchers like Jordan are building up huge, incredibly detailed 3D maps of the geology near the San Andreas fault. These maps can be used to generate detailed assessments for almost any possible earthquake scenario that might happen along the fault.
In 2008, United States Geological Survey scientist Lucy Jones and colleagues published the ShakeOut scenario, a detailed report that looked at what could happen if a large (magnitude 7.8) earthquake occurred along the southern leg of the fault.
Just like the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, people living in the area would be without power and water for interminable lengths of time, and in the immediate aftermath, firefighters would not have access to water to fight the fires that would spring up in the wake of the disaster. And in California’s current drought, the fires after the earthquake could prove more devastating than the shaking itself.
Dodging A Bullet
Scientists may not be able to predict where and when a strike will hit, but the more they understand what could happen, the more they can help plan for any event. Last winter, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced a plan called Resilience By Design, that tries to address the huge risk facing the city if there was an earthquake along the San Andreas.
“It is highly unlikely we’ll make a century [without a large earthquake]” said Jones, who also headed up the Resilience by Design group. Reinforcing the city’s lifelines, like roads and utilities, is a huge priority.
Fortunately, California has a precedent to the north.
In 2002, the Denali fault in Alaska slipped and caused an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.9, the largest inland earthquake recorded in the country in 150 years. And running right across that fault was the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, an 800-mile long piece of infrastructure that carries 550,000 barrels of crude across near-pristine tundra every day.
The pipeline was built to accommodate the movement of the earth, so that even though the earth slid by up to 18 feet in the 2002 earthquake, the pipeline didn’t break, averting a serious oil spill. To avoid rupturing, the engineers designed the above-ground portion of the pipeline in an intentional zig-zag pattern instead of a straight line, giving the pipeline flexibility.
So why be concerned about one now?
The pipeline itself can also slide. Instead of being anchored in the permafrost, part of the pipeline sit on Teflon-coated ‘shoes’ which rest on huge steel beams that sit perpendicular to the pipeline. In the event of shaking, segments of the pipe can slide on the beams like train cars on rails, without breaking.
The zig-zag pattern allows it to flex and move without breaking
The Next Quake
In California, water pipes and electrical lines could be built or retrofitted with similar flexibility. Researchers are even working on building earthquake-resistant houses that can slide back and forth on instead of crumbling. Unlike traditional homes, which sit on a foundation, these earthquake-resistant homes sit on sliders made out of steel, that, just like the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, can slide over the shaking ground instead of breaking.
The internet of everything has a role to play here too. In the future, networks of devices scattered across the southern California landscape could monitor an earthquake as it starts. This seismic network could send out an alert as the earthquake propagates through the earth, giving utilities precious seconds of warning to shut off valves in pipes along the fault, shut off power to prevent damage, and even send an alert to operating rooms, allowing a surgeon to remove her scalpel from a patient before the shaking even begins.
Scientists already have a seismic network in California, but more seismic sensors and technical development are needed to get the fledgling network to the next level. Unfortunately, those developments require money, and getting enough funding to build the next system has been elusive.
The cost for a truly robust alert system is estimated at $80 million for California alone, and $120 million for the whole West Coast. But funding is sparse. Earlier this year, President Obama pledged $5 million. The first sensors are already being used by San Francisco’s mass transit system to slow down trains in the event of an earthquake.
To see what the future of California might look like, one only has to glance west towards Japan, where even their fastest trains come to a halt at the first sign of an earthquake, elevators allow people to disembark, and people get warnings on radio, TV, and cell phones.
Similar techniques could be employed near Los Angeles, Jones says, making the city ready to bounce back from even the worst earthquake that the San Andreas can throw at the city.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said that “we learn geology the morning after the earthquake.” Fortunately for Los Angeles, plenty of people, from geologists to city and emergency planners, have no intention of waiting that long.