Shaky Reminders

Neither last Sunday's earthquake nor the stronger one that hit five days earlier was the "Big One" that earthquake experts warn will hit Southern California someday.

But one could have been. And even more chilling is the thought that we're really not ready for a major quake. Not that anyone is ever ready for a disaster, but the better prepared, the greater the chance of saving lives and reducing damage.

The earthquake in Mexico City last September was a reminder of the need for Orange County to take precautions to minimize the effects of a major temblor and to have an adequate emergency response plan. Other warnings followed.

Last April the grand jury warned that the county would be "in great danger" in an earthquake, flood or other disaster because of public apathy and poor communication among government agencies. The jury urged county agencies "to become actively involved in planning and coordination for emergencies" and residents to become familiar with emergency plans.

Last June the county Emergency Management Council disclosed federal estimates that an earthquake of a magnitude of 8 or greater on the Richter scale occurring along the San Andreas Fault could kill more than 3,000 people in Orange County and injure nearly 100,000. If it struck the Newport-Inglewood Fault, more than 2,000 people might be killed and 70,000 injured.

The recent quakes are reminders that few communities have seismic-safety ordinances requiring reinforcement of older and potentially hazardous unreinforced-masonry buildings that could crumble in a major temblor. They are also reminders that emergency response plans and communications need improvement. Two quakes within a week should jolt the community into action.

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