Home Mitigation USGS: Next Major California Quake Could Be Imminent
USGS: Next Major California Quake Could Be Imminent

USGS: Next Major California Quake Could Be Imminent

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By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest

On April 18, 1906, the great San Francisco earthquake killed more than 3,000 people and destroyed half the city. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters ever recorded in the United States.

Now, the Bay Area is bracing for something perhaps even worse. “It’s coming,” Dr. Ken Hudnut, the Science Advisor for Risk Reduction at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), said on Wednesday’s CBS Evening News. “It’s not if, it’s when.”

The next “big one” could happen much sooner than later. According to the USGS, a major quake occurs in the region every 150 years on average. The last major quake on the Hayward Fault happened 150 years ago.

The USGS, along with approximately 60 partners, this week released a new fact sheet, “The HayWired Earthquake Scenario – We Can Outsmart Disaster.” It is a summary of a major study being published called “The HayWired Earthquake Scenario.”

The first two volumes of the USGS scientific investigation report on the HayWired Earthquake Scenario are available now (HayWired Scenario Vol. 1 and Vol. 2). The third volume is expected to be released by October.

Two Million People Live Directly on Hayward Fault

The fact sheet labels the Hayward Fault the biggest danger because two million people live directly on the fault, many of them in and around the cities of Oakland and Berkeley.

According to the fact sheet, the Hayward Fault could unleash a magnitude 7.0 earthquake, capable of catastrophic damage. The USGS estimates that a quake of that size would kill more than 800 people and injure 18,000 others. With gas lines severed and water pipes broken, “hundreds of fires could ignite, burning at least 50,000 homes,” the fact sheet predicts.

The predicted conflagration is reminiscent of scenes in the 1936 film “San Francisco,” which portrayed areas of the city on fire immediately after the 1906 quake.

But those staggering numbers “are not unchangeable; we can change the outcome,” Dr. Hudnut said. “We can save lives and reduce risk by taking action now.”

The USGS fact sheet calls the HayWired Scenario “a scientifically realistic, highly detailed depiction of what may happen during and after a M7.0 earthquake on the Hayward Fault” with an epicenter in Oakland.

“But it is not a prediction, and a real earthquake on the Hayward Fault could occur at any time and with a different pattern of shaking causing damage to be concentrated in different spots,” the USGS cautions.

USGS Creating Groundbreaking Study into Earthquake Hazard Impacts

The fact sheet provides “the first glimpse of a truly groundbreaking study into earthquake hazard impacts, mitigation efforts, and resiliency actions for communities in and around the San Francisco Bay Area,” the USGS said.

“Damage from earthquake shaking would include critical facilities, such as power plants, electrical and telecommunications wires and fiber-optic cables,” the USGS notes. That damage can trigger cascading Internet and telecommunications outages. Restoring these services is vitally important for coordinating efforts by first responders.

Without good communications, emergency response efficiency is reduced. As a result, life-saving response functions can be compromised.

The USGS says the name “HayWired” was chosen “to emphasize the need to examine our interconnectedness and reliance on telecommunications and other lifelines, such as water and electricity.”

The Bay area continues to take steps to prepare for and mitigate such a disaster. Those steps have included reinforcing existing structures such as the Stanford University football stadium, which lies directly on the fault.

However, no one can say for certain how much mitigation is enough.

David Hubler David E. Hubler brings a variety of government, journalism and teaching experience to his position as a Quality Assurance Editor at APUS. David’s professional background includes serving as a senior editor at CIA and the Voice of America. He has also been a managing editor for several business-to-business and business-to-government publishing companies. David has taught high school English in Connecticut and at Northern Virginia Community College. He has a master’s degree for Teachers of English from the University of New Hampshire and a B.A. in English from New York University. In March 2017, Rowman & Littlefield published the paperback edition of David’s latest book, "The Nats and the Grays, How Baseball in the Nation's Capital Survived WWII and Changed the Game Forever."