What Arizonans can expect from a Southern California earthquake

If it doesn't happen after Tuesday, its not likely to happen at this time.

A "quake alert" was issued for Southern California giving a heightened probability that a major earthquake could shake things up for area residents.

But how could this quake impact Arizonans?

Susan Beck, professor of Global Seismology and Tectonics at University of Arizona, answered this question and more.

Predicting an earthquake?

Sending out an "quake alert" seems a lot like a prediction, amirite?

Beck says seismic stations all over the western United States and in California are constantly tracking and monitoring plates, faults and patterns but no one's predicting quakes.   

"We cannot predict earthquakes. We try to understand how faults worked in the past and how earthquakes have happened in the past, but we have to be very careful saying when a future earthquake will occur, so you hear these probabilities a lot," she said. "It's just not something that we can deterministically say. There's too many factors that have to interact to get a fault to fail. So we try to stay away from the word prediction."

What are the chances? 

Beck says the Southern California segment of the San Andreas fault, which is the biggest fault through that area, hasn't ruptured for a long time, maybe even back to the 1600s.

One is bound to happen eventually.

"We know that the plates are moving and it's building up stress and eventually it will fail," she said. "I think the other thing that has been recognized more recently is that there are a lot of other faults in the area. And so if you take into account a lot of different faults that could have earthquakes and that could fail, that could be very devastating as well."

With more faults involved, Beck says that means the chances for a quake go up, and although it's a low percentage, it's still an increase.

"If something happened next week most seismologists would say, 'Well, I'm not too surprised' because we know there's a lot of faults, there's a lot of plate motion and something's got to give eventually," she said.

But Beck says it could also be 20 years from now, so "the message should be to prepare for an earthquake that will likely hit Southern California in our lifetime."

ASU seismologist Ramon Arrowsmith also put a few misconceptions to rest.

First, California won’t drop into the ocean, no matter how big the earthquake is. He said that would likely take hundreds, maybe thousands of years or more.

And, while a warning is good to have, there’s nothing anyone can do to stop an earthquake.


How to prepare?

Beck says there are a number of simple ways to make sure you and your house are prepared for a quake.

• Check for heavy objects

Make sure you don't have heavy objects hanging over the bed, and bolt bookcases to the wall so things can't fall on you.

"What hurts people, usually, is things falling on them," Beck said.

Know your safe spot

Make sure you have a table you can hide under away from windows so you don't get hit by flying glass.

Check gas lines

"Right after the earthquake the biggest dangers are fires. So again, if you're in that region make sure your gas lines are turned off," Beck said.

• Look for support

If you live close enough to the fault, you need to make sure your house has shear support so it won't collapse on you. 

Don't drink the water

"Be careful about drinking the water until you hear that it's safe because sewer lines can break," Beck said, 

Will Arizona feel it?

Beck says Tucson or Phoenix residents might feel it depending on its size -- places around the border, such as Yuma, should be prepared. 

"Now if that kind of earthquake in Southern California happens say on the San Andreas [fault] as the magnitude 8 they're talking about, people in Yuma will feel it," she said.

Arrowsmith said people living in Arizona would definitely feel the effects of such a large earthquake.

“It would literally break the I-10,” Arrowsmith said. “Bigger buildings, swimming pools you might see the water move.”

One of the biggest concerns for Valley residents will be friends or family in Southern California.

"I would imagine a lot of us know people or have friends and family, that's always a big concern and sometimes cell phone towers go down," Beck said. "It's good to have a list [of people] if you're in that area and you have relatives outside." 

Beck says to call ONE person and let them know you're OK, then stay off the line and let that person call the rest of the family. 

"Don't be trying to make 20 calls," she said.

An earthquake like this could also have an economic impact on Arizona.

"We get a lot of goods and services out of the port of LA in Southern California," Beck said. "A lot of the infrastructure, the trains, the trucks, are probably not going to be coming."

Beck says that may be a minor disruption for many of us if we order something, but for a business it could be huge.

Cancel my vacation?

Beaches and cities of Southern California are just a few hours drive from places in Arizona. That's where many of us Arizonans spend our vacations.

"If an earthquake did happen chances are your vacation or your business plans will be disrupted. Flights may be delayed, break in I-10 or whatever freeway you're on," she said. "As long as you're safe you can probably manage that."

So if this "quake alert" has you questioning your vacation plans, Beck says she'd still go to Southern California, but there are ways to make sure you're safe and aware:

Know your hotel's evacuation plan -- ask if necessary.

Know where the stairs are

Keep your phone by your bed for a flashlight in case power is lost

Make sure your group knows what to do and where to hide

Ask the hotel to take down any heavy objects hanging on the walls or over the bed

Stay in a newer hotel

"A newer hotel will probably have better building codes than an old one," Beck said. 


Try not to stay in hotels that are too much of a high-rise

"You don't want to be in a big high-rise if things go wrong," Beck said.

Ultimately, Beck said people, although it's scary to think about, should know Southern California is in good shape. 

"The truth is Southern California is pretty well prepared for a major earthquake," she said. "It's not going to be a disaster like we've seen in some places." 

Copyright 2016 KPNX


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