Earthquake Visualization Tools -III


Earthquake Visualization Tools – Earthquake Mapping

In the US earthquake data comes from the USGS (, which works closely with universities and other organizations worldwide to collect accurate seismic information and translate it into earthquake event data. Their Shakemap Website ( and Earthquake map site ( are great sources of information, and the earthquake map lets you click down to detailed information on an event.

But for portability it is hard to beat mobile devices, and mobile apps like Earthquake Alert, Earthquake, Earthquake from the Red Cross, and Quakefeed are all excellent sources of near real-time earthquake information. Most mobile apps will post a notification of earthquakes that meet your criteria, such as intensity or location. But be careful not to set the alert threshold too low, the National Earthquake Center identifies between 12,000-14,000 each year (

The San Diego/Tijuana Earthquake Scenario


At 7:31AM on May 16th 2017, a Magnitude 7.0 Earthquake occurred along the Rose Canyon Fault off of San Diego at location 32.850°N, 117.258°W at a depth of 4.9 km.

Only it didn’t, it was just a scenario, prepared by the USGS with the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute to help develop plans for risk reduction in the Tijuana/San Diego region. This region is home to more than 5 million people, with interconnected and interdependent economies and infrastructures.  The scenario, and others like it, help answer questions like:

  • How prepared is the region in the case of a major earthquake?
  • What types of damages and impacts can be expected and perhaps more important, what types of impacts may be unexpected?
  • What will the social and economic impacts be to the region?
  • And what can be done now to improve earthquake safety and resilience?

This is a volunteer effort, involving architects, geologists, seismologists, emergency managers, planners, building officials, and even social scientists and economists. They are working in three interconnected teams to help put together an integrated view of the event and what might happen and how best to respond:

  1. Earth Science – What is likely to happen when the fault slips?
  2. Engineering – How are structures designed and how will they respond?
  3. Social Science – What are the impacts on the social systems and economics of the region?

Multiple partners, working together, will prepare recommendation on how to improve resilience and recovery.

Mother Nature Delays Tsunami Test in Northern California


In October 2017 The National Weather Service and the Redwood Coast Tsunami Work Group in Humboldt County (RCTWG) planned to have a tsunami test.  The test exercises the ability to successfully alert the public to a tsunami risk and, when there is enough time, for coordinated evacuation activities. When a tsunami comes from far away, like Alaska or Japan there can be is enough time to plan for and execute a safe evacuation.

The first time there was a tsunami communications test in Humboldt County was in March 2008, exercising the response system as if a real tsunami had occurred including the Emergency Alert System (EAS). The community worked hard to make sure that everyone was aware of the test, especially people at high risk to not hearing or understanding the alert, the hearing impaired and non-English speakers. The 2008 test only included Humboldt but over time it expanded to Del Norte and Mendocino Counties. The test has been run each year since 2008 except 2011, when there a real tsunami from a Japanese earthquake generated a real alert.

This year the RCTWG decided to change the timing of the 2017 test exercise to October, to coincide with the Great ShakeOut earthquake exercise, the same as communities in coastal Oregon and Washington.  But a successful tsunami test depends on the citizens understanding what to do when the alert sirens sound and they receive evacuation notices.  This requires education on what to do, and to insure people know it will be a test, and only a test.  The fires in northern California made it hard to do a test, not only because many of the emergency personnel were actively fighting fires, but also because the citizens might think that sirens sounding and the EAS system going off meant a real disaster was about to hit.

The communities still took part in the Great ShakeOut on Thursday Oct. 19 and practiced DROP, COVER and HOLD ON.  Everyone living or traveling in coastal California should know what to do in the case of a tsunami, they can come suddenly and often without warning, especially when triggered by a local earthquake. You can find earthquake and tsunami preparedness information in “Living on Shaky Ground: How to Survive Earthquakes and Tsunamis in Northern California” available here along with other preparedness information.

It pays to be prepared, as the people of the north coast know well, Mother Nature will always surprise.


This post is based in part on a story filed in the Eureka Times Standard by Professor Lori Dengler, a Commission Partner and emeritus professor of geology at Humboldt State University. Professor Dengler is the co-author of “The Extraordinary Voyage of Kamome,” a tsunami education book sponsored under a Seismic Safety Commission grant.

How the Best Prepare – Japan

What California Can Learn From Japan


On the morning of September 1, 1923, a massive earthquake shook Japan’s Kanto Plain, devastating the capital Tokyo and the coastal industrial city of Yokohama. As in the San Francisco earthquake 17 years earlier, fire followed the shaking and by the time the earthquake-caused tsunami receded over 140,000 were dead. The destruction of Tokyo was so great that Japan considered moving the capital to another, safer city. Tokyo is still the capital of Japan and it is one of the safest big cities in the world to be in during an earthquake.

After the 1923 earthquake, Japan experienced more seismic events, most recently the 2011 M9 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. After each event, the country got better at preparedness, and today it is the world’s leader. There is national culture of preparedness, a national earthquake early warning system and some of the most seismically effective building codes anywhere. When it comes to earthquakes and getting prepared, Japan is a model for California.

Every year since 1960, Japan marks Disaster Prevention Day on September 1st. Schools start the day with an evacuation drill. The Prime Minster is involved, and at a recent Disaster Prevention Day he talked about the importance of mutual aid, stating. “I would like to ensure that the government will prepare itself for disaster, together with the people, so that it can confidently say that ‘Providing is preventing.’”

For more than a decade the country has had a national earthquake early warning system that is tied to the radio, TV and mobile companies for instant notification. Japan’s tsunami warning system is more than 65 years old and boasts over 300 censors that together with sophisticated computer systems can predict the height, speed, location and arrival time of any tsunami.

In 1981 Japan updated its building codes based on seismic research, and the 1995 Kobe earthquake led to increased research and a new set of building codes. In 2000, these codes were revised, incorporating specific requirements and mandatory checks. In response to the 1995 earthquake, where more than 4,000 schools were destroyed, Japan passed its own version of California’s Field Act, making every school resilient to the impact of earthquakes.  Since 2002 the percentage of earthquake-resistant public elementary and junior high schools in Japan has increased from fewer than half of schools to more than 95 percent in 2015.

We can always do better to make our citizens safer; learning from Japan is one important and valuable way.

The Ring of Fire


California is earthquake country and is located within “The Ring of Fire, a horseshoe-shaped, 40,000 km-long string of seismically active zones and volcanoes around the Pacific Ocean. Almost 90% of all the earthquakes in the world occur along the Ring of Fire, and 75% of all of the Earth’s active volcanoes lie along the Ring.

Caused by the movement of tectonic plates, giant slabs of the Earth’s crust, earthquakes along The Ring of Fire occur as these plates collide and either strike each other or one moves above or under the other. These collisions not only cause earthquakes, they also create mountain ranges, and because hot magma from the Earth’s core can escape along these ‘seams’ in the Earths crust volcanoes grow and erupt.

The M 7.8 1906 earthquake along the San Andreas Fault was caused by just such a collision and killed an estimated 4,000 people. But 17 years later another earthquake along The Ring of Fire caused approximately 140,000 deaths when a M 7.9 earthquake, known as the Great Kantō, struck Japan, devastating Tokyo and Yokohoma. As was the case in 1906 in California, the Great Kantō earthquake was followed by fires that caused further destruction. But in Japan they experienced a massive tsunami as well, one that reached almost 40 feet high in places.

Today Tokyo and Japan have some of the strongest seismic building codes in the world, and since October 2007 Japan has had a national earthquake early warning (EEW) system. Japan has a culture of preparedness; every year on September 1st, the anniversary of the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake, Japan observes National Preparedness Day. In reflecting on this national approach to preparedness, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon held up Japan’s disaster preparedness efforts as a model to the world, saying in 2016 that, “…the rest of the world has much to learn from Japan, if we are to make progress on saving lives and livelihoods, and reducing disaster losses.”

In our next Post we will learn more about Japan’s preparedness.

Overcoming Obstacles to Getting Prepared

Why Don’t People Prepare?


A recent Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) survey found that nearly 60% of American adults have not practiced what to do in a disaster and only 39% have developed an emergency plan. This is despite the fact that 80% of Americans live in counties that have been hit with a weather-related disaster since 2007, as reported by the Washington Post. With the number and severity of weather-related disasters on the rise, the America’s PrepareAthon! is an opportunity for individuals, organizations, and communities to take action to prepare for specific hazards through group discussions, drills, and exercises.

But why don’t people prepare? In their new book, The Ostrich Paradox, Why We Underprepare for Disasters, authors Robert Meyer and Howard Kunreuther from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania suggest there are six key reasons:

  • Inertia: The feeling that you don’t need to protect yourself yet.
  • Myopia: The irrational feeling that since things are fine now and have been fine for as long as you’ve been in the area, they’ll continue to always be fine.
  • Herding: Looking to others to tell you what to do to prepare for a disaster and not doing it if you do not see an authority telling you to.
  • Optimism: While this is normally a positive trait, in the event of a disaster it can make you downplay the risks and thus fail to take adequate measures to protect yourself.
  • Amnesia: No matter how badly natural disasters damage an area people are quick to forget these events and the lessons that should have been learned from them.
  • Simplification: A lack of awareness of the full extent of damage that a natural disaster can cause and the scenarios that a family will be in if they’re caught in one (i.e., how they are going to get out of the area if the roads are shut down).

Alan Jacobs and Scott Matthews from the University of British Columbia offer a complementary explanation in their paper, “Why Do Citizens Discount the Future?”.  In it, they discuss experimental research designed to answer that question and conclude that citizens’ bias towards the present derives in large part from uncertainty about the long term. Their work was designed for public policy, but this research supports theories about “temporal discounting” and suggests that risks that are perceived to be years away or uncertain have little motivational force in our behavior.

All of these may be valid reasons, and the research is important to understand human behavior regarding preparedness. But a major earthquake will happen, we must prepare for it, and perhaps need to overcome our normal tendencies in order to do so.