Twenty years after the Northridge earthquake, experts say a huge temblor across Southern California today could cripple cellphone and Wi-Fi Internet service.
Seismic safety officials increasingly have been studying how telecommunications would be affected after a quake even bigger than Northridge and expressed concerns it would make communications difficult for days or longer.
Like water and gas lines, most Southern California Internet lines run across the San Andreas Fault, and officials fear the Big One could cut off service.
In the case of a huge earthquake, fiber-optic telecommunication lines could be severed by the violent dislocation of the fault. Cellphone towers in areas that experience heavy shaking could collapse or be damaged, experts say.
Even if the towers are not damaged, a surge in phone usage after a major quake is sure to bring interruptions.
The relatively modest magnitude 5.5 Chino Hills quake in 2008 caused major problems with cellphone and land-line communications. Some cellphone companies reported up to an 800% increase in calls, far more than they had expected in a true disaster. Even phones in some police agencies near the epicenter were knocked off-line.
The same thing happened after the 2011
When Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced an extensive new earthquake safety effort Tuesday, he said one focus would be strengthening the telecommunication network to better withstand a quake.
"We created a society that requires the Internet to function," said
Seismic experts say it's important to put the communications risk in context. They said damage to unstable buildings — which would bring loss of life — and the possible cutoff of the water supply are much more serious concerns.