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Earthquakes? Don't Freak Out--ShakeOut!
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Dave Hebert: Hello there and thank you for checking out this episode of USGS CoreCast, I’m Dave Hebert. This interview about the Great Southern California ShakeOut with USGS scientist Dr. Lucy Jones was recorded on October 7th, 2008.

Lucy, could you give us a brief overview of what the Great Southern California ShakeOut is?

Lucy Jones: OK, the Great Southern California ShakeOut is a series of events that are going to be held over a week in Southern California to help educate the community about the earthquake risk, what can be done it and inspire people to take actions. Because we fundamentally realized that what the earthquake will do to Southern California, what our lives will be like after the earthquake depends on the decisions we’re making right now to prepare or not prepare. So the Great Southern California ShakeOut is established to inspire Southern California to take it seriously and do something about it.

Dave Hebert: So speaking of inspiration, what inspired the Great ShakeOut? How did this all get started?


Lucy Jones: The Great Southern California ShakeOut came out of discussions between the emergency managers of Southern California and the scientist/seismologist of Southern California and we got together. It’s been 150 years since our last big earthquake. We were looking at the commemoration of that event, got talking about just the problems of getting people to connect. We want people to take action before the earthquake. After the earthquake they’ll all be inspired and it’ll be too late for a lot of things we want to do.

So, as we got started talking we ended up making a deal. The scientist would do our best job of saying what a big earthquake will be like and the emergency managers would promise to use it. And out of that came the Great Southern California ShakeOut which is centered around the Golden Guardian Exercise, the big emergency response exercise put on by the State of California. But then we expanded it and reach out to the public and asked all of our private businesses, our schools to take part in the drill at the exact same time that the professionals are.


And there are several reasons we did this but a very important one is that to get people to actually change their behavior and actually do something about earthquakes, we need to convince them that it’s their problem and their solution. And the sociologists are very clear that giving people a list of things that they should do is a really bad way of getting them to do it. People take action when they’ve talked about the problem with people they care about and that internalizes it and makes it their own issue.

So we’re trying to create a situation where al of Southern California is going to be getting the buzz, talking about earthquakes. And our goal is that a child comes home from school, “Mommy, we had an earthquake drill today.” And mommy goes, “You know we had an earthquake drill at work today too.” And they start talking it and it becomes something that families think about and share and think about ways to be safer.

Dave Hebert: So how many people are involved or have pledged participation and what’s your ultimate goal in terms of participation?


Lucy Jones: We are now just a little more than a month before the Great ShakeOut is going to take place and at this point we have 3.9 million people registered to take part in a drill. Many of these are coming through our schools; they were some of the first to sign up. And we’re just really now getting our businesses going. And we’ve got about a half million people through business organizations that are signed up and taking part and we’re hoping to expand that. And our goal is to get at least 5 million which would be one-quarter of the people who live in Southern California. And maybe in a later year we’ll do this again and we’re going to try and get all of Southern California to be part of it.

Dave Hebert: Has anything like this been done before?

Lucy Jones: No, this is really new in America. Previous earthquake drills have taken place in – a school will do it, a hospital will do one and the emergency managers have been doing mostly terrorism related drills.

So this is the first time Southern California’s emergency managers have drilled around an earthquake. And it’s very much the first time that we’ve reached out to the public. This happens in Japan every year on earthquake day, it’s September 1st in Japan. Mexico City also has done repeated big public drills but it’s the first time we’ve tried to do it in America.


Dave Hebert: So, could you describe what happens in this scenario and this earthquake scenario the USGS has created and how was it created?

Lucy Jones: The Great Southern California ShakeOut is based on a San Andreas earthquake. And in fact the waves from such an earthquake are being shown on the screen behind me. And we analyzed what we expect the fault to do from the geologists. We’ve got the seismologist how the waves would travel out. We got engineers to say how those waves would affect our buildings, our infrastructures, our roads, our lifelines. And then we turn to the economists, the sociologists, public health, the social sciences to help understand not just what this would physically do but what would this do to our society. And by putting that whole picture together we’ve been able to create something that’s seen a lot more use than we’ve ever had before because we’ve really looked at how it matters to people.


And as we put it together it’s a very sobering prospect because a big San Andreas earthquake like you’re seeing is an inevitability in Southern California’s future. And in fact it’s a probability that many of the people alive now are going to live to see it. This is something that every Southern Californian should be ready for. And what it says is that we are looking at more than $200 billion in losses. One in every 16 buildings in Southern California will be damaged exceeding 10% of its replacement value. Only 1,800 fatalities associated with this. It’s a really very low number given the rest of the damage and it reflects California’s commitment to life safety building codes over the last 70 years.

Some of the most dangerous parts of this are actually the fire following the earthquake. Our estimate that the fire could be doubling the loses that we see in the earthquake itself. And that business recovery becomes a really large issue because of the disruption to our utilities and lifelines. And it’s how quickly we can bring the lifelines back that’s going to determine the really long term impact on the area, how many businesses will be out of business forever for instance. It’s very closely tied to how quickly we can recover.


And that’s one of the reasons that we’re using this and reaching out to the Southern California community. It’s making it very clear what the problems are and what potential solutions are. And highlighting a lot of ways that we can change this outcome by the decisions we’re making right now.

Dave Hebert: So what magnitude is this earthquake in this scenario?

Lucy Jones: We modeled a magnitude 7.8 earthquake on the San Andreas Fault. One thing a lot of people don’t understand is that this size of an earthquake is determined by the length of the fault that moves during the earthquake. So in our model we have a 200 mile long section of the San Andreas and that produces a magnitude 7.8.

The next earthquake on the San Andreas might only be 50 miles and it’ll only be a magnitude 7. It might be 300 or 400 miles and be over magnitude 8. But this is sort of an in between very plausible type of earthquake. The same size as we saw in 1906 and in 1857.


Dave Hebert: So what can people and businesses do to prepare for this and how can they use USGS’s science to do that?

Lucy Jones: The scenario really lays out what the possible, plausible sources of damage are and ways in which they can be reduced. As an individual the most important thing, if you’re a homeowner or own any sort of real estate in Southern California, you can probably make our building safer than it is. You’re building is only as safe as the building code that was in place when it was constructed and the degree to which it was enforced. Most buildings you can do something to improve them and we strongly recommend bringing in a foundation specialist or structural engineer and examining your building.

The other thing is to be prepared for the event. Two things that came out of this study that were extremely sobering and somewhat of a surprise was just how extensive the damage to our water system is going to be. It’s a very vulnerable system. Concrete pipes that tend to be old, it’s the first thing you put in when you build a community.


And so personally, because of writing the scenario I’ve changed two things. One of them is that I’m storing more water than I used to have. I’m trying to have a two-week supply of water for my family because it’s really likely that there will not be water for a long time. And getting it, they’ll bring in water but it’s going to be really difficult to access that.

The second thing I’ve changed is I now make sure that we have a fire extinguisher at home and make sure that everyone knows how to use it. And the reason is the fire risk after the earthquake is very, very dangerous. It scales with the number of houses that receives strong shaking. And this big an earthquake with 10 million people exposed to really strong shaking, we’re going to see a lot of fires. The estimate is about 1,600 ignitions and that 1,200 of those will grow to where they need more than one fire engine to respond. And we just don’t have that many fire engines in Southern California. And it’s the possibility of conflagrations and fire out of control is very, very real. And every ignition that can be stopped before you need the fire department is going to be one more step towards not getting out of control. So, fire and water are the two big pictures that come out of this.


Dave Hebert: So what is the USGS’s role in the ShakeOut?

Lucy Jones: The US Geological Survey is providing the scientific basis for creating the scenario and the inspiration to carry it forward. The Great Southern California ShakeOut, as this week long event, is cooperatively being created. It’s a very much grassroots effort with the US Geological Survey as one of the organizations participating. But we also have Caltech, the Southern California Earthquake Center, the Arts Center College of Design, the City of Los Angeles, the Office of Emergency Services. All of these organizations are providing people to brainstorm ideas and create the structure.

The ShakeOut itself is going to be done by all of Southern California. There isn’t one group sitting here telling you, “You do this at 10:00 am.” What we are saying is join us. Everyone, pretend the earthquake is happening at the same time and think about what you want to do to be safer. So we’ve got plenty of ideas. You want ideas how to do it, go to But we’re asking you in whatever organization you belong or wherever you’re going to be on that Thursday morning, think about what you need to do to be safe in that situation and make sure you know how to do it.


And that’s the way in which we’re really going to be made safer. If we only do it in our schools, we’ve got some safe students if the earthquake happens during school hours. But the earthquake could happen when you’re working, when you’re at school, when you’re sleeping, when you’re out partying. You don’t know when the earthquake is going to happen and we need to think about it, make some decisions, think about what you want to practice.

And our idea here is that this is something that we’re all doing and we’re all doing it together but we each have our own piece of responsibility because when it gets to earthquake safety that’s exactly the way it works. You are responsible for your own safety but also every decision you make to be more or less prepared is going to affect your neighbors, it’s going to affect your family. We’re all in this together and we need to hunt for the solution together.

Dave Hebert: So what is the USGS’s role in earthquakes in general?


Lucy Jones: The US Geological Survey is the federal agency with responsibility for monitoring the earthquakes that happen in the United States. For assessing the earthquake risk and the earthquake hazard, how the earthquakes will affect our different communities. And doing research about how earthquakes happen towards eventual goals of improving our ability to assess the risk and maybe even eventually understand more about when they’re going to happen, which of course is the most difficult part of the problem.

So we’re the scientists applying the science of seismology and geology to the earthquake risk. To create the information that will support the community in making better decisions. When you want to say, “All right, I’ve made the decision I want to be safe for an earthquakes. Now, what do I do?” You need to understand what the earthquake is going to do to your house to make that decision. So we’re the earth science part of it that partners with the engineers to get that information about how earthquakes affect our society and therefore what our society can do to be safer.


Dave Hebert: So where can people learn more about the Great ShakeOut and how can they get involved?

Lucy Jones: The Great Southern California ShakeOut of course has its own website, And that really is a link that’ll connect you to all of the information about the ShakeOut. To get involved, first decide where you’re going to be on November 13th, how you’re going to participate and then go and register for it. offers the opportunity for anyone from individual families to businesses to schools, neighborhood associations, churches can sign up and tell us what you’re going to be doing.

So that’s a really big step. Decide to do something, sign up, tell us what it is. And afterwards we’re going to be able to then use that information to better understand how to help the community do even a better job the next time around. And we’ve got the social scientists just waiting to use all that information coming in through the website.


Then you can also participate in ongoing activities through You can also find activities that are taking place in your neighborhood. We have links free to the individual counties that’ll list the big activities that are going on and come and do that on the 13th. Then there are other things you can take part in. If you’re interested in earthquake safety policy, there’s a conference that’s being held by the City of Los Angeles to study how policies affect our safety. And that’s going to be taking place over the same time period.

At the end of the week, on Friday, November 14th, there’s going to be “The Get Ready Rally” that’ll be taking place on downtown Los Angeles where we’re going to celebrate how Southern California has come together. You can take part in that. And then over the weekend we’re saying take one more step. We’ve practice the earthquake, we’ve celebrated with our friends, now go home and do one thing that will make you safer. Maybe it’s going to be to strap down your bookshelf. Maybe it’s to make sure that you have a communication plan. Maybe it’s to just program that out of state contact number in your kid’s cellphones. Do one thing that weekend that will increase your safety and it’ll be your first step and maybe of many that will take all of us one step closer to the earthquake safety.


Dave Hebert: And where can people learn more about USGS Earthquake Science?

Lucy Jones: is a wonderful website that covers the earthquake program at the US Geological Survey. And you can use that to get your connections to all of the different programs and across the United States of course. Southern Californians have a lot of earthquakes but we’re not the only source of earthquakes in the United States. And you can find out about the activities in other parts of the country through If you want to know more about Southern California earthquakes and other hazards, we also have that looks at all of the hazards that affect Southern California.

Dave Hebert: So Lucy, if you had one thing to tell someone who lived in an earthquake prone area, you had one thing to tell them, one message, what would that be?


Lucy Jones: This is your problem and what all of our lives are like after the big earthquake is determined by the decisions you’re making now and the actions you take before the earthquake. And you have an individual responsibility for your own earthquake safety but you’re also part of a bigger community. And what each of us decides to do affects what all of our lives are going to be like after event, so do your part.

Dave Hebert: Lucy, what are you most proud of about the ShakeOut effort?

Lucy Jones: I am incredibly happy; it’s a funny thing to say about earthquakes, but at how Southern California has embraced this project. When we got started we knew we were doing the right thing. We knew that as scientists we understood things about the earthquake that if the community understood would lead to action and lead to improved safety, would lead to lives saved. And we had to find a way to share that information in a way that could actually be used. And that’s where the scenario came from.


And I knew it was the right thing to do and I was really hoping that we’d see some companies take hold of this. That the emergency managers would really be incorporating this in their planning and we’ve seen that and so much more. I never imagined we would have 4 million people signed up for the ShakeOut a month before it happens. And I think we’re going to be at a lot higher number than that when it actually takes place, and to see the engagement and how ready the community has been to take this information.

I get calls from Best Buys wanting to understand what the shaking is going to be at their different stores so that they can plan how they’re going to help each other. We watched the Department of Water and Power trying to come up with engineering schemes that’ll protect the water tunnels that are crossing the San Andreas and keep water supply coming. I’m watching the electric company really take this into consideration, recognize the role that the fault offsets are going to play and start coming up with systems that’ll let them establish electricity service after the earthquake more quickly. People are using this information and it makes all the science worthwhile because it’s actually going to change the outcomes.


Dave Hebert: Well Lucy, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Lucy Jones: Thank you. Great.

Dave Hebert: Thank you once again for checking out this episode of the USGS CoreCast. For links and more information, go to and check out the show notes for this episode. CoreCast is a product of the US Geological Survey, Department of the Interior. Until next time, I’m Dave Hebert, have a great day.


Title: Earthquakes? Don't Freak Out--ShakeOut!


What if you knew that a magnitude 7.8 earthquake would happen in less than three weeks?

In this video interview, USGS earthquake scientist Dr. Lucy Jones explains that millions of Southern Californians will be preparing as if they do know, thanks to the Great Southern California ShakeOut.

Location: CA, USA

Date Taken: 10/27/2008

Length: 18:50

Video Producer: David Hebert , U.S. Geological Survey

Note: This video has been released into the public domain by the U.S. Geological Survey for use in its entirety. Some videos may contain pieces of copyrighted material. If you wish to use a portion of the video for any purpose, other than for resharing/reposting the video in its entirety, please contact the Video Producer/Videographer listed with this video. Please refer to the USGS Copyright section for how to credit this video.


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