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Disaster Preparedness: Earthquakes

October 16, 2020

It’s been over thirty years since the people of the Bay Area in California witnessed what a 6.9 magnitude earthquake can do to a city. On October 17th, 1989, at 5:04 pm, the earth shook for fifteen seconds. During those fifteen seconds, buildings toppled, a section of the upper deck of the Bay Bridge collapsed, gas lines burst, and sixty-three people were killed. The Loma Prieta earthquake was a frightening moment in the Bay Area’s history and serves as a reminder to always be prepared for a disaster.

Via California Earthquake Authority

That’s why we’re sharing some interesting information about earthquakes and how scientists are monitoring these rumbles. What types of tools and methods are people using to be better prepared for an earthquake?

Let’s begin, shall we?

Did you know that nobody can predict an earthquake? To predict an earthquake, a scientist must be able to predict the date and time, location, and—most importantly—the magnitude (or size) of the quake. While we can’t predict these particular details, scientists can forecast or estimate the likelihood of an earthquake.

Wait, but why can’t we predict them? Well, if anything, it’s the unpredictability of our planet’s structure that makes it hard! While the plates that form the surface of continents are continuously moving and shifting, they’re also getting new material from the core of the planet.

If you thought a series of annoying events could make you grumpy, ready to explode with anger at the end of the day, imagine how the earth would feel with all the stress of moving and shifting layers! One way the planet “lets go of the stress,” as it were, is by making waves (seismic waves) that eventually result in an earthquake.

One thing seismologists can tell us? The magnitude or size of an earthquake that already occurred, and based on that, the possibility of aftershocks. Most importantly, seismologists can help you plan for an earthquake. And even if you don’t live in a region prone to earthquakes, the tools used to help people deal with earthquakes might fascinate you.

Stronger buildings: If you’ve ever built a lego structure, you know that a strong base and structure matters! Seismic retrofitting is the method to make homes safer in case of an earthquake, either by building better beams or by using stronger materials that can withstand quakes—or both.

Nature, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Early-warning systems: Many unexpected little tremors could sometimes come before an actual earthquake. So whether it’s the Earthquake Early Warning system in Japan or your Android phone’s earthquake-alert system, the warnings can make the difference between preparedness and being caught unawares!

Detection: With better technology comes better detection. Did you know that each year, Southern California experiences more than five thousand earthquakes? Humans can’t detect all of them, but if better technology can measure even the smallest quake, it could help estimate bigger ones and ensure communities are more prepared!