Learn from the Past, Earthquake Experts Say

By not taking lessons from past events, natural disasters can quickly and unnecessarily turn to catastrophes, locals learned from experts March 15 at a public safety forum held in City Hall.

The La Cañada Public Safety Commission invited the community to the earthquake awareness seminar conducted by La Cañadan Dr. Lucy Jones of the US Geological Survey, multi-hazard coordinator of Southern California. Also on the panel were La Cañada High teachers Tom Traeger and Dr. Mark Ewoldsen.

The discussion was titled "Learning from the Past, Preparing for the Future Earthquakes in Southern California." Jones paralleled the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina with a devastating earthquake in Southern California.

"If you don't learn from the past you are bound to repeat it," Jones said. "I used to serve on a group titled Board on National Disaster with the National Research Council and in 1993 — 14 years ago — I heard them talk about what would happen if a category three hurricane hit New Orleans and broke the levies," Jones said.

Almost everything the Council predicted about the levies came true, Jones said. She said that although Katrina itself could not have been stopped, if agencies had worked together proactively the devastating aftermath could have been lessened. She wants Californians to learn from this lack of planning and work together to prepare for the catastrophe that could follow a large earthquake.

"[The aftermath of Katrina] made me ask myself what I know about earthquakes … that is not being acted on," Jones said. "The hurricane happened, but then the levies broke, which was worse."

She went on to explain in some detail California's San Andreas fault line and the fact there are two large land plates moving past each other. "There is no way we are going to stop it," she said.

The plates are moving very slowly, about 1 ¾ inch a year, "about the rate your fingernails grow, which doesn't seem like much unless you don't cut your fingernails for 200 years," she said.

Although the San Andreas is miles from La Cañada, Jones explained that many earthquakes can actually trigger earthquakes on different fault lines.

"The real danger here [in La Cañada] are landslides (that follow major quakes)," Jones said. The earthquake may not last long, but the damage that follows, including landslides and fires, are related to those few seconds of shaking.

Jones gave a brief history of large earthquakes that have hit the state, including the 1904 San Francisco quake that had a magnitude of 7.8 and the 1857 Great Fort Tejon event, magnitude 7.9. She pointed out that the San Francisco earthquake provided a lesson on how a catastrophe like this can change the course of a city. Until then, San Francisco was growing into the financial capital of the country. Many people left the Bay Area after the earthquake, changing the dynamics of the city.

According to Jones, earthquakes are really more of a risk to our pocketbooks than our lives. She is forming a committee of professionals including scientists, economists, politicians and community members to work on a pro-active plan that will emphasize the Southern California area.

Traeger demonstrated with the use of Slinky coil-shaped wire toys what happens during a quake and how the magnitude and length of the quake would affect structures.

"My personal nightmare is to have an earthquake during a Santa Ana condition," Jones said. The potential for fire is always great after a earthquake, however with high wind conditions added to that the disaster would turn to a catastrophe, she said.

The seminar was recorded and will be aired on cable Channel 16 or Channel 55, depending on your location in La Cañada, in the latter part of April.

Next week: Specific lessons that can be learned from the history of earthquakes and the fault lines closest to La Cañada as writer Mary O'Keefe expands on the presentation by Dr. Lucy Jones.

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