There was an earthquake at 10:40 this morning — as fate would have it, just as I was reading my homeowner’s insurance renewal. It measured 4.3 on the Richter scale, centered near San Jose. Here in Berkeley it shook the house just enough to remind me that we live in earthquake country — the kind of quake we Californians casually toss to Easterners who can’t fathom why anyone would live in earthquake country. “Oh,” we say, “we get these every so often. It’s no big deal.”
When I was a child, I thought earthquakes were the coolest thing. Science in action! I loved the earthquake sequence from the movie San Francisco, with great rents opening up in the city streets as hapless pedestrians fall into them. (Once, as our family was driving in San Francisco, I asked my father if we could go see one of those big rents, confident that after sixty years it would still be there.) Much later, as a student at UC Berkeley, there was an earthquake during breakfast at my student co-op. I rushed over to the seismograph at the Earth Sciences Building, just a block away, only to find a huge crowd of people already there, clustered around the printout. For the centennial of the Great 1906 Earthquake, my friend Coy and I went to the annual gathering of survivors at Lotta’s fountain at 5:06am on April 18th: there was no way I was going to miss that. Ten dignified elderly men and women were chauffeured to the platform in classy vintage cars. Mayor Newsom interviewed every one of them. (Sadly, the last known survivor of the 1906 earthquake passed away in February.)
Now that I’m a homeowner, I am very afraid of the Big One. The Hayward fault could let go any minute now: the last Hayward quake was in 140 years ago in 1868, and at least one geologic survey suggests there have been big quakes, oh, every 140 years, give or take. The 1868 quake knocked down buildings all over the Bay Area, but so few people lived in the East Bay that the damage in San Francisco got more press. Today, millions of people live within a few miles of the Hayward fault, and it will be a calamitous day indeed when the earthquake hits, on the scale of Katrina.
Are you prepared? You must assume that you’ll be completely on your own for a whole week. Do you have food & water stashed away? Do you have “go bags” ready in your car? Radios? Flashlights? Cash? Prescription drugs? Bicycle? Leashes & food for your pets? Is there at least half a tank of gas in your car? Does your family know where to gather after an earthquake?
Am I prepared? Partially, but not completely. You’d think after spending all this time worrying about it, that I’d have attended to everything. But it’s like the hole in the roof: it doesn’t leak when it’s not raining. If you fulfill only one of those New Year’s resolutions you made, fulfill this one: be prepared for the Big One.
Visit this USGS web page for excellent resources on earthquake preparedness.