Saturday, January 20, 2007

Preparing for Earthquakes

Earthquake Preparedness

Can we predict earthquakes?

Although we cannot predict the exact timing of an earthquake and they can occur unexpectedly, we can undertake monitoring of seismic activity to try and determine where earthquakes are most likely to occur and to try and provide some sort of forecast to ensure preparations can be made where possible to try and minimise death and damage caused. This includes:
- using special instruments to measure / monitor possible earth movements (use of seismometers / seismographs)
- plotting the regularity of earthquakes to look for possible patterns
- mapping centers of earthquakes to indicate where earthquakes may be overdue and where pressure may be building up
- observing natural phenomena which can sometimes indicate the likelihood of earthquake activity (odd animal behaviour has been acknowledged - for example snakes in China as indicated in this BBC article also see this National Geographic article Can animals sense earthquakes? )

There is an excellent article on Earthquake Prediction on the Geography Site here.

Preparing for Earthquakes
There are many things that can be done to take precautions and prepare for the event of an earthquake in order to try and minimise any potential damage. These include..

- Monitoring ground movements - to identify possible seismic activity (as discussed above)

- Earthquake proof modern buildings - this may include reinforcement of foundations; counter-weights; and use of fireproof construction materials. (see here for animation on buildings resisting earthquakes)

- Building Regulations - avoid building on unstable ground (such as landfill) to avoid liquefaction

- Practice Disaster Routines - annual earthquake drills - e.g. San Francisco - April 18th (also see this news article on Japan's quake drill)

- Automatic shut off switches - for gas mains - to try and minimise the likelihood of fire

- Public Education - public information posters / information on emergency procedures / preparing house / survival kits etc. (e.g. Is Your Home Protected from Earthquake Disasters?)

- Strengthen Routeways - strengthen foundations of bridges / suspended roadways etc.

- Emergency Service Planning - ensure emergency services (medical and rescue) are fully trained to cope with such a disaster and that specialist emergency equipment is available.

See also this excellent factsheet from the USGS looking at efforts to reduce the impact of future large quakes in the San Francisco Bay Region (Progress Toward a Safer Future Since the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake)

Follow Up Links:

Can we predict earthquakes?
Wikipedia - Earthquake Prediction
When will the next earthquake occur?
Safer Structures, Engineering and Building Codes (USGS)
Earthquake Preparedness (USGS)
Preparedness & Response (USGS - Earthquake Hazards Program)
Earthquake Survival Manual (Tokyo)
What to do in case of an earthquake in Tokyo
Earthquake Preparedness Handbook (LA Fire Department)

Photo Source: Chuetsu Earthquake 2004 (

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