Last week, a decent sized earthquake hit Mexico near Acapulco which served as a reminder of the devastating earthquakes and tsunamis that hit Japan last year. In California, or “earthquake country” as it’s often referred to, people casually talk about the “The Big One.” But earthquake preparedness is no laughing matter that that scientists and lay people alike know that we can expect to have a catastrophic earthquake likely on the San Andreas fault which stretches down the Golden State.
As a kid I remember my mom purchased a small device that was supposed to detect earthquakes and sound an alarm. While I had my doubts, it unfortunately annoyed everyone with its constant false alarms like when someone slammed a door (which was all too often in my family). So, so we had to remove it before we ever got to see if it really did predict earthquakes.
Here we are today, some twenty odd years later and California is still without any effective earthquake preparedness technology. The best thing I’ve seen around is a $.99 iPhone App that is supposed to detect earthquakes by using the internal gyroscope that detects movement. This is the hardware responsible for detecting when the display mode should be either landscape or portrait. Supposedly you can lay it down next to you while you sleep to help you detect an earthquake. But again, I’m skeptical at best.
Other countries such as Japan and even Mexico supposedly have better earthquake detection and warning systems than we do in the U.S. Japan is reported to have spent $1 billion building their preparedness system. Compare that to the measly $400,000 a year that California researchers have spent developing our technology. Experts estimate that we need to spend at least another $50 on developing our system and another $5 million on operating it.
Making the financial case for investment in earthquake preparedness difficult for the state is the fact that, unlike countries such as Mexico and Japan, California fortunately hasn’t actually had a catastrophic earthquake in over a century. Scientists are close to a solution and a team in San Diego claims to have one that will help predict an earthquake 1 minute before the seismic shock-wave reaches. But the real question is whether it will work the first time without having a bunch of false alarms first (like the device my mom bought when I was a kid). The hope is that the system will also do more than just detect quakes but also communicate warning messages via social media, television, radio broadcast, fire/police stations, public transit operators, and more.
The state definitely should invest more in earthquake preparedness and technology but whether it gets off the ground or not everyone needs to make their own investment too by having an earthquake kit. Predicting a quake will not help you necessarily survive the aftermath. It is everyone’s own individual responsibility to prepare for an earthquake by taking the necessary steps such as purchasing a reliable earthquake kit.