In 2011, the world witnessed the devastating effects of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. In 2010, Haiti and Chile experienced their own destructive earthquakes. Last October, two earthquakes struck the Bay Area on the 22nd anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake.
The Bay Area has a history of destructive quakes. It’s because of these that Justin Rubinstein, a seismologist with the United States Geological Survey, was leading a presentation about earthquake safety at a cafe in San Francisco one night in November. Rubinstein fielded questions from whether to stay or leave a building during a quake, to whether the Outer Sunset District of San Francisco would be destroyed by a tsunami.
Most of Rubinstein’s answers to these questions begin with “it depends.” In well-engineered buildings, stay inside. In poorly-constructed buildings, get out. Whether the sunset will be wiped out by a tsunami depends on the size of the disaster.
The U.S.G.S. can tell you a lot about earthquakes. What they can’t tell you is exactly when the next one will happen. Instead, they make educated guesses.
At one point in the presentation, Rubinstein shows a map of the Bay Area to the crowd and points out the biggest earthquake faults. There are two big ones along each side of the Bay: the San Andreas on the West and the Hayward-Rogers Creek to the East. According to Rubinstain, the likelihood of a magnitude 6.7 or larger earthquake in the next 30 years is 63%.
“For those of you who have just bought a house,” he says, “this is going to happen in the term of your mortgage.”
That’s something a lot of people might not want to think about. Neither is putting together an earthquake kit. In October, KALW conducted a survey asking Bay Area residents what was in their earthquake kits. Of the 328 people who responded, 127 said they didn’t have one at all and many weren’t sure they were packing the right things.
For those without a kit, Rubinstein suggests food, water, and basic hygiene supplies. Cash in small denominations is also a good thing to have because credit cards might not work and coins for payphones are a good idea.
“And all of this is with the expectation that you should be without services for at least 72 hours,” he explains.
Thinking about all the possible scenarios that can occur during and after an earthquake gets a little overwhelming. What happens if somebody makes a kit and it’s in their car and they can’t get to their car? Should they still make a kit? Rubinstein suggests getting a kit where one is spending the most amount of time - event at work.
Despite the seriousness of Rubinstein’s presentation, he’s no pessimist.
“I think with modern engineering practices, it's certainly likely that you're going to have damage, but I think banking on the fact that you're going to die seems a little foolish,” he responds.
Rubinstein says humans have a psychological block about preparing for long-term risk, so getting ready for the big one might take overcoming human nature. But that’s better than being overwhelmed someday by Mother Nature.
For more information on how to prepare your home, your family and yourself for an earthquake, visit daretoprepare.org.
This story originally aired on December 12, 2012.