Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Earthquakes Near and Far: California's Everyday Readiness

As Californians, we have become accustomed to the reality of earthquakes. All of us learn from a young age that the next “Big One” is just around the corner, any day. While the shocking images captured during the Great Quake of 1906 from which San Francisco gets its reputation have only been viewed by most today in pictures, the majority of us recall vividly the terrifying image of the destruction to the Bay Bridge during the Loma Prieta quake of 1989. Though total protection is impossible, Californians are, for the most part, prepared for the inevitable temblors that will hit us.

But what happens when they hit places unprepared? Just look at Haiti. The 7.0-magnitude monster that rocked the island on January 12 revealed the unprecedented havoc such natural disasters can wreak on nations that are structurally, politically and financially unstable. Northern California’s Humboldt County experienced a smaller – though still substantially sized – quake just days before Haiti’s, but the damage there was infinitesimal compared to that of the one that hit the Caribbean nation, which has been attributed largely in part to an almost total lack of building codes.

Haiti, the most impoverished country in the Western Hemisphere, was caught entirely off guard. California, on other hand, has long known that, being precariously situated on the San Andreas fault, it must be prepared through local organizations and have near-constantly updated building codes. Most of the thousands of earthquakes we experience each year are small enough to go unnoticed – 92 were recorded by the USGS in the California-Nevada region the same day as Haiti’s quake, but the undisputed fact that we live in earthquake county looms over every resident.

So it only makes sense that Californians have particularly felt the need to reach out to those affected by Haiti’s earthquake. “San Franciscans have a deep understanding of the devastation caused by natural disasters, and we stand ready to assist Haiti in providing relief to the residents in the difficult days and months ahead,” said Mayor Gavin Newsom on January 25.

The city of San Francisco has unveiled a way to make sure many employees don’t overlook the opportunity to help out. On Monday, Newsom announced a citywide payroll deduction program that enables city employees to donate money to the San Francisco Haiti Relief Fund directly from their paychecks.

Relief efforts have been difficult with organizations and governments around the world scrambling to help repair the already fragile area, and San Francisco has done its part to streamline its local relief funding by use of the payroll deduction program, a partnership with California-based Safeway, Inc., to place coin counting machines in city buildings to collect spare change for Haiti, and use of the city’s 311 as a resource for Haiti donation referral.

The reliability of rescue and relief efforts should disaster strike is important when living in an area so prone to natural disaster. According to the 2008 Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast, compiled by the USGS, Southern California Earthquake Center and the California Geological Survey, there is a probability of more than 99 percent that in the next 30 years California will experience a quake of magnitude 6.7 or greater, and the Bay Area has a 63-percent chance of experiencing a magnitude 6.7 earthquake or greater within the next 30 years.

And it doesn’t stop at earthquakes. The yearly wildfires that occur up and down the state are a constant threat during dry seasons, and the winter prompt landslides and flooding, requiring California to be declared in a state of emergency. The tragedy of Haiti has reiterated the need for awareness, preparedness, and organization.
Listen to audio of a Commonwealth Club program on the centennial of San Francisco's 1906 earthquake.

--By Heather Mack


perry55 said...

very good article. i liked the vivid link between the instability of Haiti's political and economical climate with the obvious instability created by the earthquake. Having visited Haiti as a 10-year-old, I already knew firsthand in just how poor a shape this country is but it's good to see Californians pay attention. This article points out numerous ways in which we have and can reach out--a valuable thing.

Nathanhj said...

There isn't any topic to which this comment more appropriately applies, so I'm posting this on the most recent posting on this blog.

Dear Ms. Sacks,

As a former Bay Area resident who still listens to the occasional Commonwealth Club radio broadcast online, the decision of the Club to bring in James O'Keefe for a panel on "undercover journalism" is baffling to say the least.

While I in no way agree with his politics, that's not why I'm writing. If the panel was on, say, Using Propaganda to Move an Agenda or maybe on The Art of the Sting, then, I would have no quibble, because it woudl be truth in advertising and I bet he would have a lot over interesting things to say.

But the point here is that he's being invited to speak on "undercover journalism" which is not something that he actually practices. Just look at the videos that rocketed him to fame, his attacks on ACORN. First, he allegedly violated the wiretapping statutes in CA and MD by making videos without the subject's consent or notification. Second, he selectively edits the videos to tell his own story, not the story of the actual interactions. If you want to see proof, just read the transcripts and then watch the videos. The edits and voiceovers that serve to present his one-sided story become abundently evident. Third, he refuses to make the unedited video available to anyone, even a respected independent 3rd party. If he's really following journalistic standards, then he'd come clean.

It disheartens me when the Club chooses to abandon its own standards by showcasing someone who's lack of integrity and ethics has recently been highlighted by his arrest in New Orleans for alleged phone tampering. By billing O'Keefe on a panel on journalism it implies that what he does is such a thing, when it is clear to anyone who has taken the time to watch the actual videos, read the independent investigator's report on ACORN, and read through the actual transcripts, that what does is very skillfully executed propaganda targeting people he doesn't like.

I love that the Club chooses to bring to the public a wide range of viewpoints on a tremendous range of topics. It's one of the reasons why I still listen even though its somethings a huge pain in the butt.

But this decision just disappoints.


Nathan HJ

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