Living in Earthquake Country – Why We All Need to be Better Prepared

By Keith Erwood

January 3, 2013

Six and a half years ago I moved to California from New York City. Since that time I have experienced several earthquakes. Let me just say for a New Yorker they were interesting to say the least, and certainly got my attention. These “small” 4.0 – 4.4 earthquakes to Californians are just minor little rumblings that make for interesting conversations and really nothing more. Sometimes, they even provide for a good laugh when seeing a newly transplanted East Coaster such as myself experiencing it for the first time. Such an event happened with me and my wife who is a CA native.

During my lifetime in NYC I experienced two (that I am aware of) small earthquakes of about 2.0 – barely felt by most. As a new Californian it was interesting to me, as it was for many on the West Coast to see the reactions to the recent East Cost Earthquake. One that caused little damage, but contributed to workforce disruptions in many areas as people fled into the streets.

Now as I sit here today I am pondering a number of things about earthquakes and preparedness. The first is that I live in so called “Earthquake Country” here in the Bay Area, or is that the entire State of CA? Then again, it could be that “Earthquake Country” is the entire West Coast. The truth is we all live in Earthquake Country. Let me explain.

There is not a single State in the U.S. that has never had or experienced an earthquake. Nor is there a State that can never have an earthquake again. True, some areas are less impacted by these earthquakes. Take my former home State of New York for example. Though NYC has had very few earthquakes, NYS has several every day. These earthquakes tend to occur in areas that are either unpopulated or have very small populations.

Then we have the New Madrid fault that is perhaps the one fault that can impact the largest portion of the U.S. if a significant earthquake were to occur in the region. In fact if a significant earthquake were to occur in this region the impact could be more widespread and damaging than a major earthquake in a place like the San Francisco Bay Area. Why?  Because cities such as St. Louis, Memphis, Nashville that are in the region do not have the same building standards to withstand such an impact.

Another surprising thing I learned is that not everyone who lives out here in CA is really prepared for when the “Big One” hits. Actually in reality, very few are truly prepared and myths about CA and earthquakes impact disaster preparedness even here. Let me provide an example for you how one of these myths can cause improper preparedness.

Myth: We live in Sunny California, where it never rains and is always warm and sunny. Well, this could not be further from the truth. Sure – it’s plenty warm and sunny in the summer months, especially where I live but it does get cold. Just last night it was in the low temperature was in the high 20’s and the high’s have lately been in the low 50’s or high 40’s. Now, this is not exactly in the teens, or 20 below zero like it can get in some areas of the country but it is below freezing and feels cold. If you were without a coat, jacket, blanket or other warm gear or heat source in your preparedness or earthquake kit you could be in trouble during the colder months.

In fact during the summer months when it gets very hot during the day the, it is not uncommon for the temperature to drop about 30 degrees at night. A change in temperatures such as this can actually cause a person to suffer from hypothermia even during the summer. Another part of this myth is that it doesn’t rain. In fact I even had someone tell me once, sure we have earthquakes, but at least when it does happen it will be dry since we hardly get rain.

To this I say not so fast. In fact as I write this, we are in the rainy season where it is not uncommon for it to rain for long periods of time. In fact last year, I think it rained everyday for a month straight. Add in the cold, wind, and an earthquake and the impact could be much more severe as people are exposed to the elements. If this happened certainly more people would succumb to the weather exposure than the actual earthquake.

In closing I ask that you reevaluate how you prepare for likely calamities in your home community – add more or additional supplies to keep you warm and dry. Consider the impact of a worse case disaster in terrible weather. And I want to remind you that we all live in earthquake country, not just those of us living on the West Coast in Sunny CA.