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Los Angeles Isn't Waiting For The Next 'Big One'

Meet Dr. Lucy Jones, LA’s new earthquake advisor and hear how she’s preparing the city for the Big One. Plus: San Francisco misses a chance to plan for a denser urban future.

Lucy Jones, a USGS seismologist talks during a news conference at Caltech in Pasadena, Calif, on Monday, March 17, 2014. The pre-dawn quake rolled across the Los Angeles basin on Monday, rattling residents from the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach but causing no reported damage. (AP)

Lucy Jones, a USGS seismologist talks during a news conference at Caltech in Pasadena, Calif, on Monday, March 17, 2014. The pre-dawn quake rolled across the Los Angeles basin on Monday, rattling residents from the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach but causing no reported damage. (AP)

Historically, southern California, on the San Andreas fault, has a huge earthquake every 150 years.  Now it’s been 300 years.  Los Angeles is due, in seismic terms for the Big One.  Big ones can permanently change cities, change history.  Before San Francisco’s last Big One in 1906, it was the New York of the West Coast.  Then it wasn’t.  Seismologist Lucile Jones is planning for LA’s Big One.  Imagining the destruction.  Trying to get the city to prepare for it.  So it’s not a full apocalypse.  This hour On Point:  seismologist, survivalist Lucile Jones on the next Big One and LA.

– Tom Ashbrook


Lucile Jones, science adviser for seismic safety for the mayor of Los Angeles. Science Advisor for Risk Reduction for the US Geological Survey. (@DrLucyJones)

Rosanna Xia, earthquake safety reporter for the Los Angeles Times. (@RosannaXia)

John Coté, city hall reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. (@johnwcote)

From Tom’s Reading List

USGS: The ShakeOut Earthquake Scenario – A Story That Southern Californians Are Writing — “The question is not if but when southern California will be hit by a major earthquake — one so damaging that it will permanently change lives and livelihoods in the region. How severe the changes will be depends on the actions that individuals, schools, businesses, organizations, communities, and governments take to get ready.”

Smithsonian Magazine: Meet Lucy Jones, “the Earthquake Lady” — “Jones is among the world’s most influential seismologists—and perhaps the most recognizable. Her file cabinets bulge with fan letters, among them at least one marriage proposal. “The Earthquake Lady,” she’s called. A science adviser for the U.S. Geological Survey in Pasadena, Jones, 57, is an expert on foreshocks, having authored or co-authored 90 research papers, including the first to use statistical analysis to predict the likelihood that any given temblor will be followed by a bigger one.”

San Francisco Chronicle: S.F. voters OK Prop. B on waterfront development — Residents overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure Tuesday to give voters a say in development along a 7 1/2-mile stretch of San Francisco’s waterfront. Proposition B, backed by the local chapter of the Sierra Club, limited-growth activists and progressives from the city’s political left flank, for months had been viewed as an easy winner, giving voters greater say over a cherished part of the city: its bayfront.”

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  • MarkVII88

    Forget the Big One, how is Los Angeles preparing for the next inevitable Sharknado?

  • ian berry

    The only time I will ever be able to comfortably afford to move back to San Francisco is after the big one.

  • Yar

    Big one vs Fukushima big one is uncomprehesable. Three major quakes occurred on the new Madrid fault during a span of two months from late December 1811 to early February 1812. If comparable quakes occurred today. The economy of the region would take decades to recover. Now consider the fact that the Japan quake was over a hundered times more powerful.

    • tbphkm33

      The New Madrid quakes of 1811-1811 was punctuated by three major earthquakes, largest one estimated at 7.5 to 8.0. Causing the Mississippi River to flow backwards for 15 minutes – filling bottom land today known as Reelfoot Lake. Fukushima was a 9.0 earthquake.

      I have always heard that New Madrid, which is overdue for a repeat, is the largest earthquake threat North America faces, in terms of magnitude. Area’s such as Los Angeles, with a drastically higher population, does however face more destruction in a lower magnitude earthquake.

      Although, I have also heard that cities in a wide area around New Madrid will face damage – as far away as St. Louis, MO; Memphis, TN; Nashville, TN; Louisville, KY; and Lexington, KY. At one point, FEMA determined that Lexington, KY would have the closest functional runway to New Madrid after a major earthquake – and that city is some 300 miles away from New Madrid.

  • Geoff Merrill

    Forget about it. We have neither the will nor the wealth to ‘repair’ what will happen. Most of the people who survive will have to relocate, it’s as simple as that. 18 million people. 4M go elsewhere in California, the rest get transported by the military to other states, somewhat proportionally. Sorry about that. BTW, we better get tons and tons of ‘short-term’ supplies in place. Not that I believe we are capable of that, based upon previous experience.

  • AC

    the ring of fire this past week….

  • ttllrr

    How long after The Big One would LA be “back” and fully rebuilt/functional–10, 20 50 years?

  • Yar

    How deep would a fresh water column in the ocean have to be for reverse osmosis to work simply through density differential? How far off shore would LA have to go to build such a plant?

    • Charles

      Assuming 6MPa of pressure required to drive the water through the osmotic membrane (could be more), a column approximately 594 meters (~1950 feet) deep. That of course assumes a 100% efficient process (it never is).

      As to how far offshore you’d have to go, I’d assume pretty far, because there’s those shallow islands off the LA coast. But I can’t seem to find the map I need, so if somebody does, I’d be curious to know.

  • malkneil

    With regards to living in these areas I’ve come to think of it as a matter of picking your poison. North/Northeast, cold winters. LA, earthquakes. New Orleans, floods. Florida, hurricanes. Midwest, tornadoes. Southwest, hot as hell. Colorado, wildfires.

  • Steve_in_Vermont

    Remember the LA riots? Multiply that many times and you’ll get an idea of the level of violence people will face. And there will be no 911.

  • misterioso

    California’s “big one” is turning out to be a devastating drought. Earthquake’s on the back burner.

  • Menagerie

    I was a Funeral Director in the 1970′s 1980′s and had to attend mandatory
    FEMA meeting for natural disasters here in So. Cal and its not a pretty picture folks as a matter of fact its very sobering and jerks you back into reality. FMA is ready by the way to dispose of as many bodies as possible most will die of thirst.

  • Vic Volpe

    The San Andreas fault is not the only West Coast fault that could be serious. The Cascadia fault in the Pacific Northwest might possibly be more serious in terms of the geologic shock to the region although the economic impact might not be as great. While the San Andreas fault moves laterally back and forth, the Cascadia fault moves up and down with the plates in contact off the coast line so a 9.0 quake would produce a giant tidal wave in addition to the seismic shock which could be felt as far inland as Montana. The Cascadia fault (the Big One) occurs about every 500 years, and we are 300 years into the last big one.


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Smoke and fire from the explosion of an Israeli strike rises over Gaza City, Tuesday, July 29, 2014. Israel escalated its military campaign against Hamas on Tuesday, striking symbols of the group's control in Gaza and firing tank shells that shut down the strip's only power plant in the heaviest bombardment in the fighting so far. (AP)

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This April 28, 2010 file photo, shows the Colstrip Steam Electric Station, a coal-fired power plant in Colstrip, Mont. Colstrip figures to be a target in recently released draft rules from the Environmental Protection Agency that call for reducing Montana emissions 21 percent from recent levels by 2030. (AP)

A new sci-fi history looks back on climate change from the year 2393.

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