By Larry Wilson, January 10, 2014
Deputy director of Taiwan's Seismology Center Peih-Lin Leu points at a
seismic chart following an earthquake, in Taipei on June 2, 2013. A
strong 6.3-magnitude earthquake hit Taiwan Sunday, killing one person
and violently shaking buildings in the capital.
That coming Biggish One — a magnitude-7 quake — is 100 times bigger than that coming Mediumish One, a 5.
That’s because each whole number on the scale marks a 10-fold increase in wave amplitude.
like me, you knew that, right, because we’re old vets of Earthquake
Country? I’m just guessing, though, that like me, you conveniently
forget the fact in between being reminded of it, because it’s what we do
in order to get out of bed each morning. We can’t go around worrying
every minute about when the ground is going to start moving under our
feet in horrendous fashion, because that way neurosis lies.
It’s so unlike the way it is for folks who live in other regions
prone to natural disaster. Hurricanes are all over the Weather Channel.
Tornadoes begin not out of the blue but in a system that creates the
whirlwinds, and if their exact path cannot be accurately predicted
beforehand, there is definitely a thing called Twister Weather.
and you know this, there is not a thing called Earthquake Weather, even
if we sometimes like to think there is — a little unseasonably warm,
the Earth’s crust getting a little baked and kaboom! We know this is an
Old San Andreas Wives’ tale, or we know it when we are reminded of it by
the seismologists among us.
A group of those seismologists gathered a bunch of reporters and
editors together last week at Caltech for the Earthquakes 101 Media
Summit. With the 20th anniversary of the Northridge Earthquake upon us
on Jan. 17, it was high time to gather the troops who will be telling
the world about the way it is here in Southern California when the next
one hits. We need to get it right when it does, as it will.
there’s this: “It’s not the magnitude of the earthquake that affects
you; it’s the shaking of the ground you’re on,” said Tom Jordan,
director of the Southern California Earthquake Center at USC. “Soft
soils shake more than hard rock.” So know your ground.
We’re not going to prevent the next Big One. And, no, as KNBC’s Conan
Nolan, who told some war stories from his long experience covering
quakes told the group, that paranoid question that always comes up in a
post-quake press conference — “Didn’t you scientists actually know it
was coming, and you didn’t want to scare us?” — is not the case. But
other places, primarily Japan but also Mexico, have invested in
earthquake warning systems that can alert us when a quake has happened
and give residents at least a hint that it’s coming, as well as stop
fast-moving trains up to a minute before the shock waves get to Los
Angeles from a desert fault, for instance. California even has a
recently passed law authored by state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Van Nuys,
requiring that a better early-warning system be put in place. But the
estimated $80 million in funding for the system hasn’t been identified —
and it would be a small price to pay to dramatically increase our
safety. Not that it would prevent property damage. But it would allow us
time to get to a relatively safe place.
Caltech’s Egill Hauksson told reporters that since the Northridge
quake, 20 years of state budget problems have actually seen
improvements in emergency response investment “dismantled and
discontinued” because of spending cuts. “We’re still throwing the dice
on that one,” he said. We do have more sensors and bigger computers to
track the meta-data that will help us analyze the next quake. But
spending and interest “tend to decrease the farther we get away from” a
killer temblor. As another seismologist told him, “You’re only as good
as your last earthquake.”
Can’t we instead use our memories of how bad it was last time to get it together before the next one comes?