Monday, March 1, 2010

Are We Prepared?

Short answer: No. Longer answer: Some areas of the US are better prepared for an enormous earthquake than other areas. From what I've read, Seattle is better prepared than Portland, and LA and SF are better prepared than Seattle. Oregon State University has retrofitted some of its older buildings, and new buildings are constructed under much stronger codes, but if the anticipated 9+/-0.5 Cascadia quake were to occur today, or even in the next few years to decades, while classes were in session, the destruction and death here would be unimaginable.

And probably the best answer: it's always possible to be better prepared. The spur for this post is an editorial piece in the NYT this afternoon titled "Are We Prepared for an 8.8 Quake?" Short essays by seismologists and engineers outline their concerns and ways we can better prepare for the inevitable. So far, there are three, but the introduction says they will be adding more as the day goes on. Good reading. As I've said before, I think about this possibility frequently. There are things individuals can do to raise their chances. However, I think it's also important to keep a certain fatalistic nonchalance about it at the same time. As John Maynard Keynes famously said, "In the long run, we're all dead." I repost this clip to illustrate the point that there are some things that are going to be devilishly difficult to deal with. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try, but we should keep our expectations relistic. Note that this is a simulated 7; a 9 would be a thousand times more energetic.

Followup: Andrew Revkin on his Dot Earth blog at NYT says much the same thing.

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