Just over one week ago, Southern California experienced two moderate jolts. A 3.9 magnitude in Castaic, and a 4.4 in Westwood, causing a stir throughout Los Angeles County. But a stir is nothing compared to what the “Big One” that scientists believe we are long overdue for would cause.
On January 17th, 1994, a 6.7 magnitude earthquake struck the city of Northridge, killing 57 residents, and injuring more than 5,000. In addition, property damage was estimated to be more than $20 billion.
However, as dreadful as the Northridge quake was, it does not fall into the category of a major earthquake. A 6.7 magnitude fails in comparison to the 8.0 that seismologists believe will strike Southern California within the next 36 years.
“For those of us who experienced the Northridge quake- it was definitely deadly,” said College of the Canyons Environmental Science Department Chair, Vincent Devlahovich. “But when the ‘Big One’ does strike, we will look back at the ’94 quake as just a moderate shake.”
For those living in the Santa Clarita area, there may be an even bigger concern with two reservoirs (Bouquet Canyon and Castaic Reservoir) being so dangerously close to the Palmdale fault line.
According to experts, a major earthquake in the mid to upper sevens could cause the entire reservoir to collapse and flood much of the Santa Clarita area. In the ’94 quake in Northridge, it was the Van Norman Reservoir that collapsed, flooding much of the San Fernando Valley.
The reason many consider earthquakes to be the most frightening of all natural disasters is that they can strike at any moment. So how can residents prepare for something that cannot be seen coming? Devlahovich believes that the only way residents can be ready for a major earthquake is by making sure they are equipped with the proper first aid kit.
“You will need a first aid kit in your home, and in your car,” Devlahovich said.
“The first aid kit should include water and food that can last up to three to five days. You will also need to have bandages, antibiotics, a flashlight, and extra batteries.”
The most recent major quake to hit Southern California was a 7.9 magnitude that struck Fort Tejon in 1857, an area just nine miles north of Frazier Park.
It is safe to say that a lot has changed in terms of earthquake safety in Southern California within those 157 years.
Following the Northridge quake, Los Angeles City officials said that their Emergency Management Department is better equipped to handle a similar shake today. Since the 1994 quake, they have implemented a new alert system, along with a state-of-the-art Emergency Operations Center.
“It’s engineered to withstand an 8.0 magnitude earthquake,” said Robert Freeman, the Operations Division Chief for the city’s Emergency Management Department.
“But you really need to be prepared to be on your own for up to a week after a catastrophic event, because city resources may not be available immediately.”
While that may be so, in the circumstances of a 7.0 magnitude or higher, Devlahovich believes that residents will have to rely on one another more so than emergency response systems.
“There have been many improvements implemented in our emergency response systems, but when gas mains break and up to 5,000 buildings go down, where do you think they’re going to respond to first? The bottom line is we’re going to have to rely on each other to be able to withstand and survive a major quake,” Devlahovich said.
“You’re going to have to look to the person next to you, because in those circumstances, the fire department isn’t going to be at your door in five minutes.”
The jolts in Castaic and Westwood were nothing new to Southern California residents, but they were in fact a reminder of the danger that looms with living directly over a fault line.
The “Big One” is inevitable, and no matter what measures the city takes to better prepare itself, it will likely never have the upper hand against mother nature.
But if residents were to take measures in preparation, they could have everything they need right at their fingertips.