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Are we ready for the big one?

Californians are used to earthquakes and tremors, but the recent 6.4 and subsequent 7.1 quakes are enough to serve as a wake-up call that the long-dreaded “big one” could still strike. The state is paying attention to the signs and has ordered more than $16 million to install thousands of quake detecting sensors all around the state. The idea is that this equipment would provide precious seconds of advance notice that would allow public utilities and services to shut down before the quake hits.

Damage in the desert

The two earthquakes’ epicenter was 150 miles from Los Angeles near the remote town of Ridgecrest in the Mojave Desert. While no one was killed or even seriously injured, roads buckled, and gas lines ruptured, causing several house fires. Seismologists say that the 7.1 quake would have caused bridges, buildings and freeways to collapse if it had occurred in a major metro area like Los Angeles, San Diego or San Francisco.

It is a matter of when not if

“We’re going to have a magnitude 6, on average, somewhere in Southern California every few years. We’ve actually gone 20 years without one, so we have had the quietest 20 years in the history of Southern California,” said a seismologist at the California Institute of Technology. “That’s unlikely to continue in the long run. Geology keeps on moving, and we should be expecting a higher rate. And when it happens near people, it is going to be a lot worse.”

Municipalities should update their plan

Local government should look at the state’s response and have a locally based plan for natural disasters like earthquakes. Local officials are advised to look at all municipal services to ensure that it has all the equipment and skills necessary to serve the community. Even if there is a plan, those quakes are a reminder that it is time to make sure the plan is still up to date.

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