The Big One

We’re coming up this week on the 25th anniversary of the Northridge earthquake. For those who don’t know, it’s the biggest earthquake to hit the Los Angeles area in Southern California in about 165 years. It’s easily the biggest since we had a decent sized city here instead of a mission or pueblo. And historically on average we have them about every 100 year or so, so we’re overdue.

In part related to that, one of the local NPR stations has started a new podcast series.

I rarely listen to podcasts simply because I don’t have the time, but this intrigued me. I listened to the first episode tonight and it scared the shit out of me, as much as any horror story.

It’s very well done. I think what triggered me was not where they talk about Northridge (although that didn’t help) but the segment with a woman who survived being buried in a building collapse in a New Zealand earthquake.

If you’re interested, I recommend subscribing to the podcast. This first episode was about the actual quake and what happens in the first few minutes afterward. Subsequent episodes will follow up how we all try to survive the aftermath in the chaos of the weeks and months that follow.

One of the biggest problems that emergency planners have with getting the public ready to survive a major earthquake is that people don’t focus on a danger that’s neither imminent nor predictable. We know statistically that it’s going to happen, but we don’t know if it will happen tonight or forty years from now. When it does happen, we don’t know if it will be in the middle of the night (like Northridge) when most people are at home asleep in relative safety, or if it will happen in the middle of a work day or rush hour when tens of thousands of people could be killed on the freeways and in collapsing office buildings.

I like to think we’re above the curve on preparation. We have bugout bags prepared with water, flashlights, food, and so on. We have made a habit of having a flashlight at our bedsides, with shoes and clothes next to the bed if we should need them in the middle of the night.

But I have no illusions about how quickly those preparations will be proven to be woefully inadequate when the 8.0 quake hits, tens of thousands die, multiple tens of thousands are injured, hundreds of thousands are homeless, and there’s no water, electricity, gas, internet, cell phone service, or any other utilities for weeks or even months.

This week’s reminders in general, and this podcast series in particular, will help to remind all of us who live on shaky ground that no matter what we think we’ve done, we need to do much better. With luck, we’ll pay attention and do better.

First resolution to remember, courtesy of this episode’s simple tips at the end of the show – try to never let your gas tank get less than half full. Don’t go until you’re on fumes and then fill up as most of us (myself included) do. When the big one hits, there might not be any gasoline available for weeks. If you have to evacuate and it happens to hit on a day when you’re on fumes, you’re screwed.

Just what I needed, one more thing to worry about.


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