Article: What California Needs To Learn From The Mexico Earthquakes

Article: What California Needs To Learn From The Mexico Earthquakes

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported a 7.1 magnitude earthquake with an epicenter around 100 miles from the Mexican capital at 1:14 p.m. on Sept. 19, 2017. More than 300 people were killed, including over 20 children who were trapped inside a school that collapsed. The cost of damage is estimated at hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars, if not billions. The cost of damage to property can be assessed in terms of monetary value, but the loss of human life can not.

Mexico is prone to larger earthquakes because of its proximity to three fault lines, where the Earth’s tectonic plates meet. Many densely populated California cities, too, are placed right above or close to active fault lines that have historically produced strong earthquakes. Studies suggest that a major earthquake could be coming, causing tremendous damage to Southern California. According to USGS, “the two faults in the San Francisco Bay Area most likely to have a damaging earthquake are the Hayward-Rodgers Creek fault system and the San Andreas Fault … Over 2 million people live on or close to the Hayward Fault, which has among the highest probability of producing a magnitude 6.7 or greater earthquake in the next 30 years.”

My company’s offices in California have assisted hundreds of multifamily, residential and commercial buildings in becoming seismically safer. Dealing closely with almost all parties involved in the seismic retrofit business — including city officials, owners, contractors, finance companies, material suppliers, architects, and engineers — I have gained an unparalleled insight into the industry.

I’ve observed that some California cities have started taking steps to avoid loss of human life in an event of a major earthquake. San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and a few other cities have come up with stringent seismic retrofit ordinances that mandate thousands of buildings be retrofitted to become earthquake-safe within a certain timeline. However, the implementation of and compliance with these programs have been questionable. Below are some of the steps that California authorities should take before it’s too late.

Speed Up Quake Warning System

The concept of a quake warning system is hinged on communication waves traveling faster than earthquake waves. So, the warnings are able to outrun the shaking. Mexico created its warning system after thousands of people died in the 1985 Mexico earthquake. This time around, sirens alerted Mexicans to the major shaking within 15 seconds, allowing them time to find safer ground.

California’s quake warning system — which is known as ShakeAlert — is still being introduced in phases. While some transit and emergency agencies are equipped, getting phone lines into the network could take several more years. Once in place, this system would provide a life-saving one-minute warning for residents to evacuate. Given the lives this system could save, congressional members of both parties need to come together to speed up its funding.