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News: SEAOC News

A message from SEAOC President Rafael Sabelli

Friday, November 1, 2019  

By Rafael Sabelli, SE, SEAOC President 2019-2020

This month saw the launch of the “California Earthquake Early Warning System,” which quickly processes ground-sensor data and provides alerts of impending strong ground motions to people in affected areas. The “early warning” is measured in seconds, time enough to avoid some tragedies on the operating table or on railways, or to drop, cover, and hold on.

Also this month, over one million people experienced power outages in the state of California. Over 200,000 people were displaced due to fire. These disruptions were due to fire, and the risk of fire, resulting from high winds (a long-standing feature of autumn in California) and our drying climate. The events hold many lessons for our profession, not least that fire is an extreme event than can affect structures both directly and indirectly. (I will return to that theme next month.) In addition to losing electricity, many lost wireless cell-phone and data services. This may have been a taste of the conditions that will affect many Californians after the next major earthquake. 

While sitting in the candlelight, eating the doomed ice cream from our freezer, I had to wonder how prepared my family, my neighborhood, my city, my county, and my state really are for the Big One.

Imagine you have been given an early warning of an impending earthquake. How early?

You have 30 seconds. You drop, cover, and hold on. 

You have 5 days.  You stock up on food and water. Fill the car with gas. Stay out of vulnerable buildings. Buy cross-word puzzle books. Pack your glassware.

You have 1 year. You buy earthquake insurance. Bolt and brace your cripple walls. Buy replacement windows.

You have 5 years. Or 10 years. Or 20. What do you do? What do you make sure your neighbors, your utility companies, and your governments do?

And what does SEAOC do? It is not in SEAOC’s power to predict when the next big California earthquake will be, nor to grant us a deferment of five or ten years to plan and prepare. But we do have to act with preparedness goals years in the future. This includes working for on many fronts, including standards development, retrofit measures, post-earthquake support for the California Office of Emergency Services, and continuing education on seismic design for our members. As SEAOC considers its plans for the next 5, 10, 15 years, we will look for initiatives and changes that are commensurately ambitious on all of these fronts. 

We have five years to prepare for a major earthquake. Go!

This has been a test of the Early Warning System.