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10 Terrifying Lessons From the LA Seismologist's Reddit AMA

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There is no such thing as "earthquake weather" and the "Triangle of Life" theory about earthquake survival is bunk. Oh Dr. Lucy Jones, LA's on-call seismologist, what would we do without you? (Probably all the wrong things in response to an earthquake.) Dr. Jones took part in a Reddit Ask Me Anything Q&A today and killed it, answering questions about where to go and what to do in the event of an earthquake, how to prep for a tremor, and whether or not fracking causes earthquakes. While a lot of what she has to say should scare the crap out of most people (there's no way of knowing how quake-safe your apartment is, really), at least having that knowledge is strangely comforting. Here are the big takeaways: · "[A]ny big earthquake will overload the cell phone network," but post-quake, texts are more likely to get through than phone calls because they use less bandwidth.
· The chance of your building collapsing is very small, but that's not the only place you might be when the shaking starts. Have comfy shoes, a first aid kit, water, and a flashlight in your car.
· Though the chance of your building totally falling to pieces is small, there's still a chance: "Your building is only as good as the code that was in place when it was built. That means in general that older buildings perform worse than newer ones. They can be retrofitted but that has never been required - with the one exception of 'unreinforced masonry buildings'. These are the worst possible buildings and the retrofit is only to keep them from killing you."
· The upside to drought? At least we don't have to worry about soil liquefaction too much. (It is as it sounds: If the water pressure underground is too high, the pressure can't escape and temporarily turns the soil into quicksand.) "[W]e have drawn down the water table to such an extent that very few of our soils are water saturated" enough to cause this phenomenon. Whew! Wait, no ... that's terrible.
· Homeowners: Get in touch with a foundation specialist to see what you can do to make your house more structurally sound in preparation for an earthquake. Get a few estimates.
· Renters: You're out of luck because there's no way at present to tell how safe your building is. "One part of my project here at LA is to find a way to get that information to consumers so they can make their own choices about how safe they want their buildings to be." Anyone living in a post-1997 building is as safe as possible; everyone else is on their own. So find a friend who owns and make their home your shelter.
· A gap or drop in the number of earthquakes doesn't necessarily mean that a bigger one is coming, though when the "rate of smaller earthquakes goes up, your chance of a bigger earthquake goes up."
· Because there's no "big subduction zone fault" on LA's coast, the risk of tsunami is relatively small. In that respect, we're luckier than other coastal cities at high-risk for earthquakes.
· "Drop, Cover, Hold On" is still the best thing to mutter comfortingly to yourself (and to actually do) in an earthquake. "[T]he most frequent injury in California is from falling objects or trying to run." The best place to go is wherever you have to move the least to get to. (Under a table is good.)
· After a big earthquake, you've got a whole new host of things to be worried about, like "potentially catastrophic" fires.
· I am Dr. Lucy Jones, USGS Seismologist & Earthquake Adviser for Mayor Garcetti – AMA [Reddit]