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Current Earthquake Warnings a No Win for Cities, Victims

Current Earthquake Warnings a No Win for Cities, Victims

By Monday, 09 July 2018 02:39 PM Current | Bio | Archive

One of the first things Russian scientists told their American counterparts, when détente allowed both sides to speak again finally, was that they’d discovered an earthquake prediction precursor that might interest the Americans.

It did interest them, especially since the Sylmar quake had just killed 65 people in Los Angeles only months earlier in February of 1971. It’s known as "dilatancy theory" and is based on monitoring the changes in velocity of seismic waves in the micro-quake background environment along fault lines.

The Americans reviewed the seismic data for the San Fernando Valley for the decade prior to 1971.

They in fact found anomalous readings only a few months before the quake struck Sylmar.

A few years later, in May of 1976, a researcher at the California Institute of Technology, Dr. James Whitcomb, mentioned to colleagues at that prestigious research university that he might have reason to suspect the same sort of phenomenon as preceded Sylmar was occurring once again, and that a major jolt for Southern California could be on the near horizon, perhaps within the coming year.

His off the record remarks leaked to the press and he found himself repeating his comments in front of the California Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council with television cameras rolling.

When no great earthquake struck within the next 12 months Dr. Whitcomb nonetheless experienced some rumblings of another kind. Real estate agents in Los Angeles were furious at how his false alarm had affected the market, and they weren’t alone. The harsh criticism extended to city officials too, who along with real estate brokers were threatening to sue him.

Seismic forecasting, it goes without saying, is a thorny endeavor.

La Sapienza University’s Dr. Carlo Doglioni — a world-class seismologist — told me a few years ago that "this problem of earthquake prediction being easily solved has never been suggested. Finding renowned experts with open minds in many fields to fill an interdisciplinary panel is going to be difficult, and one wonders if that ever will be done."

Dr. Doglioni may estimate the most daunting problems to be scientific; great impediments to be hurdled as well though are social, legal, cultural and political.

Let’s assume, for example, that civil and scientific authorities in Southern California are convinced a large seismic event is very likely to occur within hours or days.

Los Angeles can’t be evacuated, so what, in fact, should be the protocol?

One scenario would have only police, fire, EMS, National Guard and other agencies being informed so as to take preparatory measures — but nothing issued to the general public so as to avoid disorder. It'sa certainty, however, that sufficient numbers of police, firefighters, and soldiers would alert their spouses, children, relatives, and friends.

In short order the city would be abuzz with the news of the impending event, and worse, it would be cloaked in foiled secrecy impossible to maintain, creating exactly what was intended to be prevented — panic.

A perplexing no-win situation now prevails.

If no earthquake takes place, if a false alarm ensues, those claiming to have been injured or subjected to duress owing to the city-generated misstep in emergency communication management might well appear the next day at city hall accompanied by their attorneys.

If an earthquake does strike, it will soon become common knowledge that the city was left uninformed except for the very few and anyone injured and/or the relatives of those killed would probably be screaming for justice.

On the other hand, if city fathers issue an all-points bulletin to be broadcast on all news and social media, that would only remedy the latter problem while exacerbating exponentially the former.

Los Angeles might suffer greater financial harm from the torrent of lawsuits than from an earthquake if no tremor is felt — for among the hordes of supplicants demanding redress would be very some heavy hitters indeed.

The great retailers and other business leaders of Southern California could well demand recompense, for as millions dropped everything and made for their homes and families during the alert, losses to commerce and industry would be real and perhaps quite staggering. At end, as the legal ramifications played out, the suits, punishments and fines levied could be earth-shaking.

The EEW (Earthquake Early Warning) system coming on-line changes much.

The EEW sends screaming alerts to millions of cell phones on the West Coast, providing perhaps a few seconds notice in front of seismic waves approaching at tremendous speeds from quakes already having transpired some distance away.

But, in attempting to improve on that, it may be that deep down there is a realization that allowing earthquakes to remain quietly undisturbed in the "act of God" category, for now at least, might be the best option from among a slate of very bad choices.

David Nabhan is a science writer, the author of "Earthquake Prediction: Dawn of the New Seismology" (2017) and three previous books on earthquakes. Nabhan is also a science fiction writer ("Pilots of Borealis," 2015) and the author of many scores of newspaper and magazine op-eds. Nabhan has been featured on television and talk radio all over the world. His website is www.earthquakepredictors.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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The Earthquake Early Warning system coming on-line changes much. The EEW sends screaming alerts to millions of cell phones on the West Coast, providing perhaps a few seconds notice in front of seismic waves approaching from quakes already having transpired.
eew, ems, los angeles, seismic
Monday, 09 July 2018 02:39 PM
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