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It's been 100 years since the San Andreas fault ripped along a 300 mile rift and the resultant 7.9 San Francisco Earthquake nearly leveled the city on April 18, 1906, but today, little more than one in four Californians are ready for the next inevitable Big One.

Should another earthquake like the one that hit the San Francisco Bay Area 100 years ago strike today, the result would be an unprecedented natural disaster more than four times as devastating as Hurricane Katrina's impact on New Orleans.

The psychological impact could be even worse. Death and destruction from an earthquake can be instantaneous with virtually no warning, unlike a forecasted hurricane which is much more easily predicted and escaped.

Just days before the 100th anniversary of the San Francisco Earthquake, the Survey and Policy Research Institute at San Jose State University, San Jose, CA released results of a poll revealing 70 percent of Californians believe a big quake will strike the state and affect them, but only 22 percent say they are well prepared.

The newly released, quake information-packed United States Geological Survey's "Putting Down Roots In Earthquake Country" says there's a 62 percent probability that a quake of magnitude 6.7 or greater will occur in the region by 2032, but fewer than 10 percent of households have disaster plans, fewer than 10 percent of home owners have taken steps to retrofit their homes and fewer than 50 percent of households have disaster supply kits.

Half of those surveyed by the university institute had confidence that the government is well prepared or somewhat prepared to provide disaster assistance after a significant quake, a faith-in-government that institute director Phil Trounstine found to be "somewhat wishful thinking" given governments' response after Hurricane Katrina.

Hurricane Katrina, at about $35 billion, was the nation's costliest natural disaster thus far, but a major quake now in the San Francisco Bay Area would cost more than four times as much, $150 billion, cause the death of 1,800 to 3,400 people, damage 90,000 buildings and displace as many as 250,000 households, according to "When the Big One Strikes Again," a report just released at the three-day 100th Anniversary Earthquake Conference held this week in San Francisco.

Prepared by the engineering firm Charles Kircher & Associates in Mountain View, under a commission from conference's organizers -- the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute, Seismological Society of America and California Governors Office of Emergency Services -- the study used computer models to estimate how a 1906-type quake would impact the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area, home to more than 7 million people.

According to the report a 7.9-magnitude quake along San Andreas would cause up to $34 billion in building-related losses in San Francisco, $28 billion in Santa Clara County, $26 billion in San Mateo County and $15 billion in Alameda County.

Old buildings made with non-reinforced masonry or concrete and structures not tied to their foundations could suffer major damage or collapse and cause most of the injuries and deaths. So-called "soft-story" construction, living spaces built above open areas like garages, carports and the like is also at risk.

Conference organizers also reported:

  • Thanks to updated building codes, structures built after the 1970s are generally considered safe.
  • Families, businesses, and institutions with response and recovery plans in place will act safely. Others, who don't have adequate plans in place, may suffer.
  • Many government agencies are better prepared to respond to an emergency.
  • Many businesses will be brought to a halt for weeks, some for months. The economic effects will be felt worldwide, and years will pass before the epicenter's business activities will be fully restored.

Tomorrow: Preparing For The Big One

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