By Amber Bartlett (’18)
What would you do if the ground suddenly started shaking violently under your feet? Would you run and hide under a table or in a doorway, or would you be paralyzed by fear? While that thought might just seem like a scary fantasy, we are overdue for a major quake. The reason is that research presents a trend of large earthquakes occurring along the San Andreas fault once a century, and it has been 160 years since our last major quaker.
But why are we more at risk in this region? What exactly is an earthquake? An earthquake is generated by the strain from the grinding of the San Andreas plate against the Pacific Plate, which lies beneath the Pacific Ocean. Since the last earthquake in 1857, the land on either side of the fault line has been pushing together at a rate of over 1 inch per year. The way that this energy accumulation will be released is through a major earthquake which would move the earth’s plates back to the position that they were in a century and a half ago.
The last earthquake, called the Fort Tejon earthquake, had an estimated magnitude of 7.9, rupturing the southern part of the San Andreas Fault or a length of approximately 225 miles. A U.S. geologist discovered that in the 1857 earthquake, the San Andreas fault, as well as the San Jacinto fault fractured to cause an earthquake of this magnitude.
In California, much of the strain generated by the grinding of the Pacific Plate against North America results in earthquakes along the San Andreas Fault, but the shearing action doesn’t end there.
Through the use of advanced rupture modeling technology, scientists infer that the San Jacinto Fault is capable of rupturing with the San Andreas fault in the next major earthquake to rock almost all of California. Scientists predict that the upcoming earthquake will last several minutes and will seem like a lifetime in comparison to the miniscule earthquakes we endure on a weekly basis.
Several SDJA students trembled upon hearing this news. Becca Chitlik (‘18), sharing understandable distress and disarray, questions the damage such an earthquake could generate. “What will happen to my animals?! What will happen to my mom’s work? How will our daily lives be affected?”
But, according to optimist Elias Sitton (‘18), Becca need not worry too much. He believes that California is adequately prepared for some shaking. “I think San Diego has taken sufficient precautions for the earthquake. We are likely to not be affected as much because they have dedicated resources to building infrastructure.” He also commented that our rolling buildings are designed to prevent crumbling and falling, but in other countries with large earthquakes, they cannot afford this advanced technology.
Although we may be well-prepared with our anti-earthquake buildings, it is advisable to know appropriate actions to take to prevent injury from a quake’s damage. If you are outside when an earthquake occurs, always stay away from anything that can fall. If you are inside, always protect your head and neck. Put anything sturdy over that part of your body. As Rachel Kornberg (‘19) asserts, “You can store some extra food in your house: water, flashlights, blankets. Plot out places in your house that would best survive an earthquake.” Above all, always remember: a broken arm or leg can be fixed, but a crushed head or neck can be fatal.