On August 24, California was struck by a 6.0 earthquake, the largest one in northern California in 25 years, and many residents fear “The Big One” may be close. While it is still only speculative, several hundred scientists have been spending the past year researching and preparing for a major earthquake crisis, one that most of them believe has the capacity to strike at any time.
As with anything worthy of taking precautionary measures, it is important to understand the overall situation. Earthquakes are the result of stress that is built up over the years between tectonic plates and then released from a fracture in the earth. The fractures are called faults. Given the fact that five earthquakes have happened in California the first five months of 2014 (and each registered above a 4.0), it only makes sense that people would be nervous. Many geologists believe that these smaller tremors may serve as a prelude to something much grander in scale. Although the precise time frame has not been pinpointed, researchers are united in their conclusions about a bigger earthquake’s immediate effects. Another opinion that they agree on is that it is inevitable.
With nearly 300 fault lines running just below California’s surface, the state is one of the most seismically active parts of the world. Seismologists believe that these fault lines (like the one running through the San Andreas fault) could trigger a mega quake close to the one in 1906 that shook San Francisco to its core. The good news is, it may not happen for a few decades. According to TheTelegraph.com, Geologists say there is a 99.7 percent chance of “The Big One” (a 7.0 earthquake or above) hitting California within the next three decades, with the Southern part of California carrying the most risk.
The southern region of the San Andreas fault, which runs close to the city, has not had an earthquake more than magnitude-7.5 since 1680. According to seismologists’ recent claims, that makes one more than a century overdue. Kelly Huston, of California’s Office of Emergency Services, describes what the scene could look like once it had its way. “You would see buildings collapse, you would see people trapped, you would probably see roadways collapsed. More than likely you would see widespread destruction.”
Each one of the public buildings in the greater L.A. area has been either reinforced with steel or replaced, and many of the bridges and freeway overpasses have also been restrengthened. However, around 1,500 other buildings that stretch across the city, some of them constructed in the 1950s and 60s, are not.
With fears of a “big one” looming, and early warning systems already set up in Japan, Mexico and Romania, scientists at the University of California-Berkeley are working hard on a prototype that could soon hold the key to earthquake prevention. “There are a lot of people working effortlessly, scratching their heads and trying to come up with a method [of prediction]. It’s a learning process,” says Tim McCrink, a senior geologist with the California Geological Survey. Officials strongly advise storing a first aid kit with a two-week supply of food and water, and keeping an emergency backpack near the door in case people need to leave in a hurry.
By Theodore Borders