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A re-post for SF Quake Day

April 18, 2008

Today is the anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake (see other geoblogosphere coverage here and here) so I thought I’d repost something I wrote last fall after the moderate quake we experienced in the Bay Area about being mentally ready for the inevitability of the next big quake.

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The moderate quake on Oct. 30th, 2007 (Mw 5.6) here in the San Francisco Bay Area was the highest magnitude quake since Loma Prieta in 1989. It was also the strongest earthquake I’ve personally experienced (and the first one I’ve blogged about).

I’ve only lived on a plate boundary for about 4 years now. Prior to that, I was in the interior of the North American plate, which has the potential for dangerous seismic activity in certain locations, but overall, moderate to big events are less frequent (which may be arguably even worse for what I’m going to talk about next).

A moderate earthquake is really just right. It reminds you about the fundamental hazard, freaks you (and your cat) out a bit, makes you think twice about the those bottles on the top shelf, and makes you think about your own general preparedness.

As I see it, there are two basic kinds of preparedness. The first kind is the practical kind. This includes the list of stuff you should have at the ready if the infrastructure (power, water, communications, etc.) gets knocked out in the event of a big quake. It also includes things like having a plan with your family about what to do if such an event happens while you are all separated. And there are many other aspects to practical preparedness…I won’t go into that here…that website has tons of information.

The second kind of preparedness is one that I think stems from being an Earth scientist, and a geologist in particular. This is mental preparedness. Geologists know and appreciate probably more than anyone the unstoppable force that is plate tectonics. Even some non-geologists that have lived through multiple earthquakes forget (or, maybe more likely, block out) that it will happen again. Geologists have a unique perspective of the “long view”. We throw around millions of years like its our job! Geologists appreciate that the beauty of a place like the Bay Area, with its hills and interior waterways, was (and still is being) created by plates sliding past each other.

I think the geological perspective leads to the mental preparedness. I am mentally prepared for a big earthquake. I refuse to be one of those people after the fact that say something like “I didn’t think it could happen”. Not only could it happen…it will happen. So, get mentally prepared to accept the consequences.

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