While many places on earth are susceptible to seismic and volcanic events, nowhere is it more common than along the Ring of Fire that encircles the Pacific Basin.
Not only are these tectonic plates in constant motion, slowly but inexorably building up stress only to suddenly and violently relieve it, this fault line is also home to 75% of the world's active and dormant volcanoes.
Today's NZ M7.8 quake and tsunami, along with 2011's Great Japan quake, the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, and the M7.9 quake that struck Tokyo in 1923 claiming 100,000 lives, are all products of this never ending process.
And while we've seen relatively little in the way of severe seismic activity along the west coast of the United States in recent years, our luck will assuredly run out at some point.
Roughly 315 years ago a massive earthquake struck off the Pacific Northwest, sending tsunamis crashing into both the North American shore – and some hours later – into Japan. Luckily, this happened before European settlers had settled the region, and so very few people were around to witness it.
While Hollywood has made the San Andreas fault in Southern California far better known, the Cascadia fault that runs along the Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and B.C. coast is believed capable of generating an even larger earthquake.Warnings from the Oregon State University (see 13-year Cascadia study complete – and earthquake risk looms large) back in 2012 suggest this region is overdue for another quake; one that could conceivably match the power of 2011’s Great Northern Japan Quake.
This scenario is viewed so seriously by the governments of the United States and Canada, that it was the focus of this year's FEMA: Cascadia Rising 2016 federal and state disaster exercise.
According to press reports, this drill involved 20,000 people from both the United States and Canada, including various federal agencies, the U.S. military, state and local emergency response managers across the Pacific Northwest, Native American tribes and emergency management officials in British Columbia.
A recent USGS study published in the journal Earthquake Spectra, nearly doubles – to 143 million - the number of Americans who live or work in areas susceptible to potentially damaging ground shaking (see USGS: Nearly Half Of U.S. Population Exposed to Potentially Damaging Earthquakes).
No matter where you live, FEMA, Ready.gov, and other agencies urge that everyone have - at a bare minimum - a well thought out disaster and family communications plan, along with a good first aid kit, a `bug-out bag’, and sufficient emergency supplies to last at least 72 hours.
But in a major disaster, you may very well wish you’d done more.
In When 72 Hours Isn’t Enough, I highlighted a colorful, easy-to-follow, 100 page `survival guide’ released by Los Angeles County, that covers everything from earthquake and tsunami preparedness, to getting ready for a pandemic.
The guide may be downloaded here (6.5 Mbyte PDF).
While designed specifically for the nearly 10 million residents of Los Angeles County, this guide would be a valuable asset for anyone interested in preparing for a variety of hazards. And in Los Angeles, the advice is to have emergency supplies (food, water, etc) to last up to 10 days. In my humble opinion, 2-weeks in an earthquake zone isn’t overkill.
As you work to better prepare your home, business, and family to deal with an earthquake (or any other major disaster), I would strongly encourage you to visit ShakeOut.org and to take part in their yearly drills.
For more on earthquakes, and earthquake preparedness, you may wish to revisit:
Dr. Lucy Jones: `Imagine America Without Los Angeles’
California Quakes : Concrete Concerns
Estimating The Economic Impact Of A San Andreas Quake
It truly is, just a matter of time.