Watching the news last week was difficult. Natural disasters have wreaked havoc across the world, between floods and fires in the US and the 6.3-magnitude earthquake in Italy. Living in Southern California can make someone hyper-aware of the danger of natural disasters, and our hearts go out to the families who’ve lost loved ones, their homes, or both.
Human beings adapt. We learn from disaster, and we plan and prepare with the knowledge we gain. We-the-living respect the victims of tragedy by pulling together and using our brains to improve our situation. It can be hard to visualize disaster striking where we live, but living here means being smart enough to leave the house with sunglasses even on a cloudy morning- we can’t see the sun, but we know it’s there.
Where’s The Danger?
The Italy earthquake “is a difficult and powerful reminder that we also face earthquake risk here”, said Red Cross spokeswoman Monique Gugaw. Italy’s 6.2 magnitude struck at 3:36 am, and was followed by a string of powerful aftershocks that flattened buildings and structures. Places where picturesque churches, lovely homes and neat storefronts stood days ago are now just a heap of rubble. Before and after pictures show literal tons of debris piled up over building foundations.
The quake was a result of two tectonic plates sliding across one another. The same forces threaten Southern California via the San Andreas, San Jacinto, and hundreds of others, making our region one of the most dangerous seismic regions in the world. The only difference is that our earthquakes are bigger and potentially more dangerous. For reference, the 7.8-magnitude earthquake experts warn of here would be 178 times times stronger than Italy’s 6.3 was. It’s a scary prospect.
A Lesson in Preparedness
It’s easy to think that California’s more modern buildings mean it would better survive the shaking, but seismologists and structural engineers say that many buildings across Southern California wouldn’t survive the violence of the 6.3 quake that hit Italy last week. The structural flaws in those ancient stone buildings isn’t so different from our unreinforced brick buildings built before 1933.
The California Seismic Safety Commission’s Structural Engineer Kit Miyamoto says, “They are unbelievably dangerous buildings”. She has visited Italy to study the earthquake damage. “The things that we see [in Italy], there will be similar things that we see here.”
Italy’s earthquake also damaged brittle concrete buildings built in the 1960s and 1970s, says Gian Michele Calvi, structural design professor at the Institute for Advanced Study of Pavia. Hundreds of similar buildings exist across California, and most of them are unretrofitted. Calvi went on to describe one town she saw were there wasn’t a single building safe enough to set up an emergency command post.
There was one exception. Norcia, a town near the epicenter, saw no deaths, said Paolo Bazzurro, professor of structural engineering at the Institute for Advanced Studies of Pavia. “I heard there was not even a single injury.” The town had been struck by a moderate earthquake in 1997, and so people prepared themselves after being reminded by mother nature what can happen.
We might not get a warning to shake us into action. But California is renowned for looking to the future. We can choose to be smart enough to avoid calamity. Instead of waiting for our own earthquake to strike, we can honor those that died by learning from their misfortune and preparing now- we owe it to ourselves and our families.
Self-Sufficiency the Key to Prepare
When asked about emergency and earthquake preparedness, President Obama cautioned that “Government plays a vital role, but it is every citizen’s responsibility to be prepared for a disaster.” Especially with our disaster response agencies underfunded and undermanned, it’s crucial for our whole region that individual homes prepare a plan and the tools to survive after a major event.
Emergency agencies ask that every household prepare an earthquake kit packed to get your family through at least the first few days after an emergency. This needs to include food and water, communication tools (like a hand-crank radio), light, shelter and warmth, and tools built for emergencies. We've written a guide on how to build your own earthquake kit- check it out HERE.
We sell Earthquake Bags, so it’s obvious we think preparing is essential. We are happy to provide the best kits available if you can’t build your own, and we've donated hundreds by donating $10 for every bag sold in August to the Italian Red Cross relief efforts.But more than anything, we want to make sure every one of our neighbors has the food, water and tools to be self-sufficient after a major earthquake, so please buy or build your own!
“What people really need to be thinking about is how to be as self-sufficient as possible,” said the Chief Hazard Geologist at the Department of Natural Resources. “It’s very fair to point at what’s happened with Hurricane Sandy. You need to have a plan and be ready to be an island unto yourself.”
Thousands of people in Southern California have one of our bags in their home, car or office. Check out our most popular Earthquake Bag below, and check earthquake prep off your list!