The Big One Is Coming: Here’s How To Prepare

Photo: Courtesy of Quaketrack.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: Scientists cannot predict earthquakes. Really. But they do know that a large quake is likely to hit California in the next 30 years. The U.S. Geological Survey reported earlier this year that there is a nearly 100% chance of a 6.7-magnitude earthquake, and a 7% chance of a magnitude 8 or greater earthquake. (For comparison, the 1906 San Francisco earthquake was a 7.9-magnitude earthquake, and the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles had a magnitude of 6.7.)

In other words, you will probably experience a major earthquake sometime in your adult life. That doesn't mean you need to panic, but it does mean you need to be prepared. With that in mind, here are five ways for you to get yourself ready for the "Big One."

Know Your Faults
Before you know how to prepare, you should know what’s happening under the ground. There are several fault zones in the Bay Area, but the one you probably hear about most is the San Andreas. The USGS has labeled the southern end of the San Andreas fault as “ready,” meaning it has a good chance of causing a large earthquake in the near-ish future. Faults where earthquakes have occurred more recently are deemed less ready because they haven’t stored up as much energy.

San Andreas isn’t the only fault we have to worry about; several other Bay Area fault lines are due for an earthquake. While living in an area where the ground could start moving at any time is unquestionably terrifying, it’s at least comforting to know that an earthquake along the San Andreas fault is unlikely to cause the ocean to swallow our coastal cities whole.

In the Los Angeles area, there are other faults that aren't as well-known but are starting to receive more attention. One of those, the 47-mile-long Newport-Inglewood Fault, runs along several Westside cities, including Culver City and Long Beach. A recent study led by UC Santa Barbara geologist Jim Boles revealed that the fault may be very deep, stretching all the way to the Earth's mantle. The fault is believed to have caused the destructive 1933 Long Beach earthquake, but the new discovery doesn't necessarily mean that the fault will cause a major earthquake in the near future.

"It’s another fault that could be more important than people thought," Boles told Refinery29. "I think a lot of people thought that this fault existed in the past, but is not so important today, but they don’t think that now."

Photo: Courtesy of Quaketrack.
Size Up Your Home
Home prices are up everywhere, especially in the Bay Area, so you may forget about checking whether a structure has been retrofitted for an earthquake when you just need a place (any place!) to live. But there are simple ways to check the status of your building. Oakland and San Francisco both have websites set up that allow you to check the readiness of your home. The big offenders are soft-story buildings, which consist of at least two stories on top of a more fragile story (such as a carport) that can collapse in an earthquake. If you’re renting an apartment in a multistory building, find out if it has been retrofitted (and no, you can’t tell just by looking at it).

If you want to know whether your home is on or near a fault line, there’s a tool for that, too. (Though some people don’t seem to mind if their home is near a fault line when there's an incredible view to be gained.)

Clear The Halls And Stock Up
A large earthquake may happen while you’re at home. Keeping hallways clear, bolting heavy objects to the wall, and keeping emergency supplies in the bedroom is not only smart, but may save your life.

That large, beautiful piece of art you picked up traveling may look great in your hallway, but if it's in a glass frame, it could shatter and leave shards along the path to your door. The same goes for cabinets displaying objects made of glass or porcelain. Place everything breakable away from bedroom entrances and the door to your home. Remember to store emergency items like batteries, flashlights, and water in a place that’s easy to access.

If an earthquake happened right now, where would you go? If you thought of running outside, you’re already in danger. No matter where you are, the best thing to do in an earthquake is to duck and cover. Find an object in each room to take shelter under, such as a desk or a dining room table, and hold on. After the shaking stops, put on comfortable shoes and follow the emergency route you’ve already planned (hint). Also, in the case of a major earthquake, the Red Cross opens up evacuation centers, as they did for the 2014 Napa earthquake. A Red Cross earthquake app is available that gives alerts following an event and allows you to search for local shelters.

At the very least, your kit should include first-aid supplies, a flashlight, blankets, and enough food and water for each person in your household for at least three days. Make sure to include nonperishable items that you’d actually want to eat (chocolate, anyone?). Other items, like a cell phone charger and radio, are nice to have.

Photographed by Heather Talbert.
Our Cell Phones, Our Lives
If you’re like most people, you probably don’t have a landline phone. Your cell phone may be a great tool for communicating with family members and checking for updates in your neighborhood. It might also not work if cell towers fall over or if everyone makes a phone call at the same time, jamming networks.

California hasn’t experienced many sizable earthquakes (the most recent being the 2014 Napa quake) since smartphones became ubiquitous, so we don’t know for sure how well we’ll be able to communicate with each other. As a general rule, you shouldn’t make a phone call directly following a quake — whether you’re on a landline or cell phone — unless you’re calling about a medical emergency. There are other ways to tell family and friends you’re safe, such as through social media updates and text messages. Making a plan to meet family members or roommates at a specific place (such as a clear outdoor area that is not near buildings or poles) may be helpful if you are unable to communicate through an electronic device. If a large earthquake doesn’t hit the region for several years (here’s hoping), the infrastructure may be in place to help us communicate more efficiently during a natural disaster. Los Angeles recently announced that it was becoming the first U.S. city to retrofit new cell-phone towers.

Scientists are also currently working on an earthquake early-warning system, which is already used in places like Japan and Mexico to give up to a minute's warning before an earthquake strikes a particular area. The system works by giving a warning after detecting p-waves, which signal that ground-shaking s-waves are on the way. How many seconds of warning you receive depends on how far away you are from the epicenter of the quake. BART is already testing out the system as part of a pilot program. The goal is to implement the system in California so that residents would receive alerts on their cell phones and other devices.

One More Thing
We’re serious about storing water. Start hoarding H2O now.

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