Though experts say an earthquake of level 7.8 or greater is almost guaranteed to strike the USC area in coming years, many agree the recent seismic activity in Haiti and Chile is not indicative of an increased likelihood of an earthquake in Los Angeles.
Many people are speculating that the sudden surge in seismic activity elsewhere in the world is a sign that “the big one” will soon hit Los Angeles. Experts, however, say the fault lines responsible for the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile are too distant to have any effect as far north as California.
“The fact that there were earthquakes [in Haiti and Chile] doesn’t affect our chances of having one here,” said Thomas H. Jordan, a professor of earth sciences and the director of the Southern California Earthquake Center.
Still, a number of experts say that California is due for a large earthquake — likely a quake that would emanate from the San Andreas fault line, which runs under California north of Los Angeles. During such an earthquake, waves would become trapped in the sediment underneath Los Angeles, causing 7.8-level tremors that could shake the area for up to two minutes.
The seismic waves are unpredictable, so logistics of exactly where this earthquake will hit cannot be specified. The Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast, however, believes Los Angeles does face a 67 percent chance of a 6.7-magnitude earthquake or greater sometime in the next 30 years. The chance of a similar quake striking anywhere in California in the same time frame is 99.7 percent.
Jordan noted that California is not bracing itself for a specific earthquake, but that there are many possible “big ones.” Though the San Andreas fault is the most likely source of “the big one,” Jordan said there are other faults that could spark dramatic seismic activity in the region.
Jordan stressed that those living in Los Angeles should not dismiss the severity of an upcoming quake because of vague details about when and where.
“Just because it may not hit soon doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned,” Jordan said. “We should be very concerned. A large quake is inevitable; it’s going to happen, and when it does it’s going to cause problems.”
Though the recent earthquakes are unrelated, the devastation that has followed the quakes in Haiti and Chile is a harsh reminder of Southern California’s own anticipated earthquake and the potential for damage.
USC, however, has taken extensive measures to ensure that, when a large scale earthquake does strike, the school will be prepared.
The USC Office of Fire Safety and Emergency Planning has incorporated a portable water filtration system that, should students and staff be trapped in an area without drinking water, can make potable water from fountains, pipes and pools. Emergency food and medical supplies have been placed in strategic locations throughout campus, as have satellite phones. Some form of an emergency kit exists within every USC-owned facility, even those on Catalina Island.
In addition, USC is committed to educating both students and staff about how to react immediately after an earthquake hits. The Community Emergency Response Teams consists of staff, faculty and students trained in fire suppression, search and rescue, and first aid. All buildings have a Building Emergency Response Team trained to evacuate students as quickly as possible.
USC also began its earthquake awareness program, the Great California ShakeOut, in 2008. A response to the earthquake threat from the San Andreas fault line, ShakeOut educates students about proper measures to take before, during and after an earthquake.
The ShakeOut itself is a simulated earthquake response drill acted out at a predetermined day and time throughout California each year. Several weeks before the ShakeOut occurs, officials work to garner publicity and to train emergency responders in basic earthquake safety. Most importantly, the program teaches the practice of “Drop, Cover, Hold,” in which people in the area affected by the tremors get under a desk or table and protect their heads and necks.
According to Steve Goldfarb, the university’s Fire Safety and Emergency Planning specialist, one of the most important steps in preparing for a quake is to secure all loose objects and furnishings.
“Earthquakes themselves don’t kill people; everything falling does. It’s critical during a quake to take cover and then stay still until the tremors have stopped,” Goldfarb said.
Even with the annual ShakeOut drill, a recent survey by USC’s Norman Lear Center found that only 12 percent of participants in the event found themselves “very well prepared” for a large earthquake.
Still, students in general seem to be well aware of the basic duck-and-cover strategy and the efforts of ShakeOut.
“My understanding is that we’re supposed to drop, cover and hold on until we’re cleared,” said Shevora Ebron, a sophomore majoring in business administration. “I think most other students know that too.”
Goldfarb will hold a seminar on earthquake preparedness in the Cardinal Room of the Lyon Center on Thursday, March 11, between noon and 1 p.m.