The Science of Sustainability

Earthquake Preparedness in the Bay Area

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Bay Bridge and San Francisco / Flickr

The magnitude 7.0 earthquake that occurred a couple weeks ago near Christchurch, New Zealand is yet another reminder for those of us living in the Bay Area about the inevitable seismic danger we face. While many details of the New Zealand earthquake are different than what we face in the Bay Area, there are a few aspects that are comparable.

The fault that ruptured on the South Island of New Zealand was dominated by strike-slip motion, which is similar to the San Andreas, Hayward, and related faults in the Bay Area*. And, unlike the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in January, the state of building construction in the Bay Area and Christchurch is, in general, much better.

But there are a lot of older structures in the Bay Area that could be quite dangerous in a powerful earthquake. Individuals need to be prepared. A few months ago, my wife and I declared a weekend ahead of time to be "seismic hazard preparedness weekend" (I even wrote that on the calendar). The USGS has incredible resources when it comes to Bay Area earthquake awareness, education, and preparedness. We downloaded their packet Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country for putting together our kits.

We spent a good day and a half preparing kits with food, water, and other emergency supplies for our home, our car, and for both of our workplaces. I have to admit, it really felt good to get it done and feel like we could brave 3-4 days without power, water, and communications. We have plans for what to do if we are at work as well. Don't put it off. Declare next weekend or the one after that your own seismic hazard preparedness weekend. Put it on the calendar and make it real.

The last thing I'll mention about this has to do with mental preparedness. That is, you can buy all the supplies, have the plans all worked out, prepare your house, and so on — but you also need to be mentally prepared. A relatively large earthquake will happen, eventually. You can't stop it and deciding not to think about it won't decrease the chances. I'm not saying you need to worry every moment — worrying doesn't help either. It's good to come to terms with the high probability that you will be  affected by an earthquake and then take steps to reduce the risk to you and your family.

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* see this QUEST segment from 2008 about seismic hazards related to the Hayward Fault. You can search on our website for other related stories, including these:

Predicting the Next Big One
Earthquake Early Warning
Earthquakes: Breaking New Ground

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Category: Geology

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Brian Romans

About the Author ()

Brian Romans is the author the popular geoscience blog Clastic Detritus where he writes about topics in the field of sedimentary and marine geology and shares photographs of geologic field work from around the world. He is fascinated by the dynamic processes that shape our planet and the science of reconstructing ancient landscapes preserved in the geologic record. Brian came to the Bay Area in 2003 and completed a Ph.D. in geology at Stanford University in 2008. He lives in Berkeley with his wife, a high school science teacher, and is currently working as a research scientist in the energy industry. Follow him on Twitter.