Written by Neya Abdi
If you live in California, stories of the devastation coming out of Houston from Hurricane Harvey are downright foreboding.
In California, the probability of a 6.7 magnitude earthquake or higher in the next 30 years is 99.7 percent. For comparison, the last quake of that magnitude was the Northridge Earthquake in 1994 that killed 72 people.
Unlike some residents of the U.S., a natural disaster isn’t just a distant sad story for Californians, but a startling reminder of their own vulnerability.
Texas vs. California: Different Disaster, Similar Impact
California’s location limits its chances of being hit by a hurricane, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something to learn from Texas’s tragedy. While there’s a stark difference between the visual impact of a hurricane versus an earthquake, the post-storm or post-quake challenges are the same. Critical services are disrupted, residents are trapped, stranded, or displaced, and rescuers struggle to deliver enough food and supplies to survivors.
From Disaster To Catastrophe: The Projected Impact of California’s Next Quake
Unlike a hurricane, earthquakes come with minimal warning. The priority becomes mitigating the impact of the event. Alarmingly, California can’t claim to be doing everything it can to limit the potential damage, both to people and the economy.
In 2016, the Southern California Disaster Risk Reduction Initiative released a report, Strengthening SoCal, detailing the impact of a large earthquake and how to prepare. Among the catastrophic scenarios addressed by the report are the possible explosion of disrupted gas lines or forest fires ignited by natural gas.
Even if California avoids a greater calamity like a wildfire or explosion, the long term impact of burst pipes is nothing to brush aside. Residents in parts of California could be left with no water for up to six months.
How To Individually Prepare For a Natural Disaster
Retrofitting pipelines so they’re earthquake-resistant is outside the power of most residents in the same way infrastructure issues in hurricane-struck regions requires political initiative.
Moreover, news coverage of past disasters makes two things abundantly clear. First, residents can’t rely on the federal government for immediate assistance. Second, personal preparation makes an enormous difference. The task of rescue and recovery, and its ultimate success, rests with survivors, the community as a whole, and the local government.
So what steps can you, your family, and your community take to adequately prepare for the aftermath of a disaster?
- Prepare a Disaster Kit: After a disaster, you can’t count on running to the pharmacy or popping into the store to get the help you need. Building a kit with a week’s worth of food, water, and medication gives you peace of mind and ensures you’re set until help arrives.
- Get To Know Your Neighbors: Your immediate source of support in the event of an emergency is your neighbors, especially if you can’t call 911. By building a relationship with your community you have a circle of people who can share supplies with you and also check in with you in the aftermath of a quake.
- Plan Escape Routes: Know the quickest way out of your home, as well as a backup route, and practice this response regularly with your family.
- Identify Safe Areas To Stand In Your Home: Avoid windows and find the strongest areas, like a sturdy doorway to stand in to avoid falling bookshelves or furniture.
- Create a Neighborhood Response Plan: Chat with the community to set up a plan for immediate response and rebuilding. Organizing at the local level can prevent deaths, provide assistance, and even reduce the long-term economic damage after a disaster.