Prepare for the worst, California warns

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Aerial view of the San Andreas Fault
Aerial view of the San Andreas Fault that extends roughly 1,200 kilometres through California. Many believe this is where the ‘Big One‘ is long overdue
Insurance

In light of the recent earthquakes in California, US that occurred on 4 and 5 July, many are anticipating the ‘Big One’, and authorities are urging those based in the region to be prepared

California is now spending over US$16 million on the installation of thousands of quake-detecting sensors across the state – and though these will give utilities and trains mere seconds to shut down before the shaking starts, these will be the seconds that count, officials say.

Luckily, the earthquakes that occurred were centered in the remote location of the Mojave Desert, and nobody was hurt. But regardless, the shakes caused several house fires, power losses, snapped gas lines, cracked buildings and flooding in homes where water pipes burst. California Governor Gavin Newsom estimated that the damage amounted to more than $100 million and some nearby towns, such as Tona, southwest of Death Valley, were still experiencing problems with water and gas services several days after the quakes struck.

What this all means, officials warn, is that people need to start being more prepared for a much worse eventuality. Though the fault system that the July quakes occurred along is not known to be linked to the San Andreas fault line, it is possible that the San Andreas Fault may have sustained some additional stress from the recent quakes, and this could cause it to ‘slip’.

Experts assert that there is still much to learn about the complicated fault system, which may run much deeper than we are able to tell. “Because they are buried, we probably do not know them all,” said Glenn Biasi, a geophysicist with the USGS in Pasadena, California, speaking to Live Science. “This area does not fit the textbook picture of sides of a plate sliding past one another.”

And it is because of these mysteries that many are anticipating the ‘Big One’. Michele Cooke, a geoscientist at the University of Massachusetts, noted that the recent earthquakes could add just enough stress to the San Andreas Fault to cause it to slip, or alternatively unclamp to the point that is much more likely to slip. She also suggested that there could be a bigger shakeup occurring underground that the recent earthquakes have been masking; possibly a migration of the active plate boundary away from the San Andreas Fault, which is hinted at by the ruptures that have all occurred along the Eastern California Shear Zone – in contrast, the southern portion of the San Andreas Fault hasn’t experienced a major rupture in 150 years.

“Any time that we can go through a seven-point earthquake and we do not report a fatality, a major injury, do not suffer structure damage that was significant, I want to say that that was a blessing and a miracle,” Kern County Fire Department spokesman Andrew Freeborn said.

And Lucy Jones, a seismologist at the California Institute of Technology, explained that Southern California is likely to experience a magnitude six (on average) earthquake every few years. “Geology keeps on moving,” she said, “and we should be expecting a higher rate. And when it happens near people, it is going to be a lot worse.”

There is little excuse for a lack of preparation, and travellers should be vigilant when it comes to ensuring they are safeguarded. In the eventuality of getting caught in a quake far worse than those that occurred in early July, evacuation and medical care can amount to a costly sum, not to mention the cost of uninsured property losses. In the wake of the 1994 Northridge earthquake, earthquake insurance was key to helping communities rebuild; let’s learn from the past and secure the future.