clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Here Are the Frightening Things That Will Happen in the Aftermath of a Big Los Angeles Earthquake

When Los Angeles's former earthquake czar, seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones, spoke to an audience at a recent event advocating earthquake preparedness, she got real about how the effects of a big 'quake go beyond just the initial shaking. "[N]ot dying in the coming earthquake is not enough. We need a bigger goal. We need to have a city we still want to live in." The Planning Report has the whole talk, but here are some the best nuggets of wisdom about the challenges Los Angeles will face in the event of a big earthquake and what we've done to protect ourselves so far.

—When an earthquake comes, of course, surviving the event itself is a priority. But it's definitely not the only obstacle. If anything, what follows is worse. "[W]e need to get beyond the mentality that this is only about dying. This is about living, and about what life will be like after the earthquake." Jones says that fires and loss of communications and water could lead to a massive migration out of LA if it can't bounce back fast enough. ("How many of you will stay when you haven't had a shower in a month?")

—LA's worked really hard to address the weaknesses in its earthquake plan that Jones has pointed out, like finding the buildings that will be the most dangerous in the event of an earthquake and requiring retrofits for them. "You're far more likely to be murdered in Los Angeles than to die in an earthquake. We have solved many of the issues around life safety. But that's not enough."

—There are still some areas that are worrisome: "We aren't going to be able to protect communications at all ... Nobody was willing to have us put generators at every cell tower to keep them all working." She said that in Japan, towers do have their own generators, and they kicked in after a 2011 earthquake. Once they ran out of fuel, though, "That's when people really started leaving the area." (LA's working on a network that could survive an earthquake and stay functioning.)

—A real wild card is the wind, because when an earthquake rips through an urban area, there are often fires that follow. "We expect the fires will double the losses. That's assuming that there aren't Santa Anas when the earthquake hits—which I can make sure of in a scenario but can't in the real earthquake." She emphasized the great importance of the fire department being able to actually get water and do its job post-earthquake.

—The earthquake will definitely cause destruction to buildings, but that also means that it will hurt business. After a big 'quake, "our financial activity is going to drop. We are going to lose assets ... We need to get everything working quickly enough that we are back to where we could have been before the earthquake within a couple of years." She says that after the Northridge earthquake, that was accomplished, but in that case there was 40 percent insurance coverage. Now LA has just 10 percent.

—"If we get a delay in recovery—if it takes us a long time to get systems working, if people give up and leave, if we lose their jobs, and if there's no rental housing so too many of our workers can't afford to stay here—then it would take a long time to get our economy back." The economic loss "dwarfs" the devastation that the tremor causes, and "This is what really matters to LA."

—The good news is that, while things like cell phone reception and access to water are vital to making a solid recovery—to having LA be a place where we can actually live after the earthquake—they don't all have to be in pre-earthquake condition to be beneficial. "We don't have to keep every bit of it working perfectly after the earthquake ... But we have to get it to be good enough. We're trying to keep the system working."

—In case there was any doubt left, no one should be dragging their feet on earthquake preparedness: "We've actually been in a particularly quiet period in the last 20 years. It will not continue."
· Lucy Jones' Priority: Preparing LA for 'The Big One's' Economic Impact [TPR]
· Los Angeles Working on Cell Phone Network That Can Survive a Big Earthquake {Curbed LA]
· Here's LA's Ambitious Plan For Surviving After a Big Earthquake [Curbed LA]