Earthquakes are inevitable–What’s there to expect?

Earthquakes are the result of tectonic plates moving at the Earth’s crust causing failure at a fault line creating a huge or very minor magnitude quake that could destroy infrastructure or life as we know it.

Earthquakes are the result of tectonic plates moving at the Earth’s crust causing failure at a fault line creating a huge or very minor magnitude quake that could destroy infrastructure or life as we know it.

Everyday, around the world, there are thousands of earthquakes happening. Not every earthquake that is occurring right now are life-threatening, apartment-levelling disasters as seen in Japan or Nepal but they are occurring somewhere on earth.

If you live along the west coast of North America then I’m sure you’ve heard about the “big one” that is supposed to be happening in the upcoming years. Although no apparent evidence has been seen physically, Thomas Jordan, the director of the Southern California Earthquake Center has warned that a high magnitude earthquake along the San Andreas fault line is overdue to occur. When the earthquake happens big cities along the coast like San Francisco and Los Angeles will be tremendously damaged and deaths are certain to occur despite steps taken to minimize risks. “The Big One” could happen anytime in the next 200 years, with a 12% chance it will happen within the next 50 from today. The last time this area was devastated was in 1857 when a 7.9 magnitude earthquake tore through southern California causing hundreds of deaths. The west coast is locked in for a crazy ride.

We are expecting the biggest earthquakes along the Pacific Rim, but very recently in western Iraq and near the border of Iran, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake injured over 700 people. Somewhere else in the world that recently has been going through many earthquakes have been in Anchorage Alaska, the fault lines there are different from the more southern faults like san andreas fault. Near the end of November 2018 a 7.0 magnitude quake occurred in Anchorage, it left roads destroyed and some houses unstable. Earthquake specialist in the area have been assisting people and making sure the community is safe and secure, no injuries or deaths were reported. The reason why so many earthquakes and aftershocks are happening in this area are most likely due to the tectonic plates being very active under the earth’s crust, more so here than anywhere else on earth.  

A recent study by Oregon State University scientists show that earthquakes over 6.5 in magnitude can trigger another on the other side of the world. This can explain why sometimes an unexpected earthquake happens soon after a large one elsewhere. The stronger the earthquake is, the more likely it is to trigger others, so “the big one” may turn out not to be “one” at all.

Although modern construction techniques help buildings withstand seismic events, in many countries, buildings are not “quake-proof”. If an extreme earthquake happens where buildings are not up to code, more damage will be dealt than necessary. Anticipating major quakes, America and Canada have taken initiative in insisting that buildings be able to withstand over an 8-9 magnitude quake. This will ultimately lower the damage dealt to the infrastructure in these areas.

One of the worst earthquakes ever took place in Japan in 2011. It was a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami that the people of Japan were not prepared for. There were 15,896 total deaths reported. Scientists had not predicted this immense quake therefore no warnings were issued till it was too late to react. Theoretically, if a warning was issued people would have had the chance to move further inland to stay away from the tsunami and take cover in a secure location.

But the unpredictability of earthquakes makes them difficult to prepare for in the short term. And since they act quickly, it is hard to react in time. Instead, we need to make long term preparations whether we expect an earthquake or not. Here are some preparation tips:

  • Make sure you have some sort of canned food along with over 3 gallons of water stored away in case of emergency.
  • Most likely there will be no power due to power lines falling, so make sure to have a working battery backup, flashlight and radio in an accessible location.
  • If extreme shaking begins be sure to find a suitable place to take cover and avoid falling debris. Good places to take cover are door frames, desks or tables.
  • Stay indoors until the shaking has stopped. If you need to evacuate the building due to other unsafe circumstances, try to find other shelter inside somewhere else.
  • Avoid being outside near power lines or trees due to the extreme danger in case of their falling.

At the end of the day you never truly know when a natural disaster like an earthquake will occur. Big or small they are still a scary thought to think about. Wishing they never happen is one thing, but when they do occur, knowing how to handle them is much more beneficial to your safety and the people around you.

Image credit: Pixabay/Angelo Giordano

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