Earthquake conference scares the heck out of us


Damage from California's last major temblor, 1995's Northridge Earthquake

Be afraid. Be very afraid. That was the theme at today’s LA symposium, Imminent Danger: Earthquake Disaster and Risk Reduction in US Cities. The UCLA-hosted event brought together seismologists, engineers, architects, assessors and others to discuss preparation for the inevitable Big One, which, as everyone agreed, is not a question of if, but when. Despite the LA Times’ questions about whether the conference’s sponsors stood to gain from spreading earthquake fear, the insights to us seemed sincere and terrifying. We’ve compiled a few of the more sobering points, which should get you caring a little more about seismic retrofits and earthquake kits.

•According to Kit Miyamoto, president of Miyamoto International, California knows which schools and other public buildings would be structurally unsafe in an earthquake, but doesn’t have the money to fix them.

•According to Peter Yanev, World Bank Consultant, while buildings in the Pacific Northwest are designed for much lower earthquake loads than those in California, the area’s Cascadia Fault is more likely to produce a mega quake of 9.5 or greater.

•According to Tom Heaton director of the Earthquake Engineering Lab at CalTech, buildings constructed before 1995 are more susceptible to earthquake damage than recognized because of “brittle welds,” which often cause joints to break apart under seismic duress.

•According to a 2008 study by the US Geological Survey called The Great Shakeout,  the estimated damage from a 7.8 earthquake on the San Andreas Fault would total about $210 billion.

•According to UCLA researcher Robert Nigbor, the notion that earthquake codes ensure buildings’ safety in an earthquake is a fallacy.

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