Better than mocking the reaction to the East Coast quake
It’s fun to tease East Coasters for ruffling so easily over Tuesday’s earthquake, which turned out to be a pretty minor event. This was no Japan. Rather than laughing, though, shouldn’t we use this as yet another opportunity to remember that nature is unpredictable and a lot stronger than we are? Especially when you consider just how many Americans are at risk.
“It's not a question of whether we're due for a catastrophic quake, but when,” Donald R. Prothero reminded readers in an Op-Ed on March 11, hours after Japan’s massive earthquake and tsunami. “Thus, the news from Japan is not only a sobering reminder that we are also in the cross hairs; it is a warning that we must take the threat seriously.”
In the months following the quake in Japan, which came just weeks after a devastating temblor in New Zealand, our Opinion pages have been full of tips and warnings, urging readers to prepare. Beyond earthquake kits, emergency cash and solar phone chargers, though, there have been deeper messages about the risks of living along fault lines. We’ve supported affordable earthquake insurance, asked if our emergency hospitals are ready, and questioned whether California’s nuclear reactors could withstand a natural disaster. Are the world’s most populated cities prepared, asked Claire Berlinski in an Op-Ed about the politics of earthquakes. In a word, no:
Seismic risk mitigation is the greatest urban policy challenge the world confronts today. If you consider that too strong a claim, try to imagine another way in which bad urban policy could kill a million people in 30 seconds. Yet the politics of earthquakes are rarely discussed and, when discussed, widely misunderstood.
Yet, just as we know how to build airplanes that don't crash, we know how to construct buildings that don't collapse. We also know which cities are most at risk: Bogota, Cairo, Caracas, Dhaka, Islamabad, Istanbul, Jakarta, Karachi, Katmandu, Lima, Manila, Mexico City, New Delhi, Quito and Tehran. Los Angeles and Tokyo are prime candidates for a major quake, but they will probably survive because they are well-built — though Los Angeles could do better.
James Madison, whose historic Virginia home was unharmed despite its close proximity to the quake’s epicenter, would have agreed.
Photo: Workers evacuate a courthouse in Manhattan after Tuesday's earthquake. Credit: Brendan McDermid / Reuters