Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Centennial of the Earthquake

Yesterday was the 100-year anniversary of the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, now estimated to have been a magnitude 8 (+/–) temblor. The occasion has shed light on the good and the bad of earthquake preparedness here in northern California. On the positive side, since the 1970's, and moreso with the lessons learned from the Loma Prieta (1989) and Northridge (1994) earthquakes, California's building codes require that structures be designed and constructed to, at the minimum, give anyone inside the building an opportunity to get out without serious injury. I would rather go through a magnitude 8 earthquake in California than a magnitude 7 anywhere else in the world, or even a magnitude 6 in some countries. Also, our bridges and subway tunnels are being retrofitted to survive a major quake.

On the negative side, though, there is still an alarming degree of complacency among the general public. In the event of a major quake in San Francisco, individual citizens are likely to be mostly on our own for food and water for the first three days. I keep water and ready-to-eat foods handy, and rotate them out a couple of times a year. I also have flashlights and a radio which will operate without batteries. In the grand scheme of things, that ought to merit about a C– [barely passing] grade, since it truly is the minimum, but it sets me head and shoulders above the majority of San Franciscans.

Of course, there are worse places to be. Many Californians fled to Portland or Seattle after the Loma Prieta and Northridge earthquakes, but the Pacific Northwest is overdue for a magnitude 9 earthquake from a little something called the Cascadia Subduction Zone. Oregon and Washington lag behind California in earthquake preparedness.

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