What is ‘the Big One’?
The Big One is what people call earthquakes of a magnitude 8 or higher. Scientists know that quakes of this size hit California semi-frequently, and study probability in order to understand the risks. We know the San Andreas Fault will strike again and significantly impact all civilization within a 50-100 mile radius. According to USGS there is a 70% chance that one or more quakes of a magnitude 6.7 or larger will occur before the year 2030.
Two earthquakes have previously been data-classified as big ones; The San Francisco quake in 1906 with a magnitude of 7.8 and the Fort Tejon quake in 1857 that hit 7.9. There have been seven other earthquakes within these magnitudes in California, including Owen’s Valley in 1872 (7.4) and Imperial Valley in 1892 (7.8). Read more about these disasters here.
Unfortunately, scientists are unable to predict earthquakes with any certainty, but they believe quakes of this magnitude will happen every few hundred years. That means we're right on the cusp of a potential Big One. And according to the USGS article above, the next Big One has a 70% chance of occurring before 2030, since we know there is no way to predict the exact timing, it’s best to treat this timeline as a very rough estimate and start preparing today.
What Will it be Like in the Aftermath?
The San Andreas Fault is massive, stretching from Cape Mendocino to the Mexican Border. If an earthquake strikes, transportation paths will be destroyed, reservoirs drained, and utility lines broken. People in the affected areas will likely be without electricity, food, water, and shelter for weeks or longer.
Self-preservation efforts should be in place. Rescue efforts will be difficult without access roads or clear paths for travel. Rebuilding will take a long time and more importantly, knowing how and where to rebuild will require testing and analysis since the ground structure will have been altered.
It's hard to imagine, but life for days (or even weeks) without the basics we depend on is highly likely. It's important to have a plan in place.
How Should I Prepare?
Getting prepared isn’t hard, and here are a few steps that you shouldn’t skip; having an evacuation plan, knowing how you’ll get back in touch, and a meeting place set up so that you and your family know where to find each other.
You should also have an Earthquake Bag packed with food, water, shelter, communications, power, warmth, first aid, tools, and hygiene necessities. Think of it like high-stakes camping. You won't have access to additional resources and you won't know exactly how long you’ll need to be prepared. Being over prepared is much better than the alternative.
Consider all the things you normally take for granted like clean water, heat, a place to sleep, or the ability to communicate. These things will all be impacted by a big one and you need to have a plan in place for your own safety and for those you care for.
Check out this post for some basic tips to get started.
It's important to remember that there is a vast difference between the time frame of earthquakes and other natural disasters, and the time frame of the human experience. There is no room for complacency when it comes to survival. We know that massive earthquakes have happened and will happen again.
You've probably been hearing about The Big One for years and it hasn't happened yet, and you may wonder if it ever will. The truth is, every year that it does not happen, is one year closer to an occurrence. Earthquakes happen. Plates of rock underneath the earth’s surface will never stop moving so earthquakes will never stop happening. All we can do is take the necessary steps to be safe and prepared.
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