Where’s safe?

Today we in the Bay Area of California experienced another memento mori, another price tag that comes along with coastal Redwoods and mild weather year-round. A 4.3 magnitude earthquake struck near San Jose at 10:45am. I personally didn’t feel a thing — our office building is near a freeway and wobbles like Bambi on ice every time a semi goes past. I have heard no reports of any injuries or damage. But status messages (including my own) were fired off rapidly all around the Bay, to the amusement of the non-Californians on our contact lists.

The traditional spin is that a minor earthquake like this one is the perfect opportunity to make sure you check your earthquake preparedness kit.

It’s also when I hear from out-of-towners who express wonder that anyone could live in an earthquake zone. While California is certainly the state most associated with earthquakes in popular culture, it’s actually Alaska that should be:

Alaska is the most earthquake-prone state and one of the most seismically active regions in the world. Alaska experiences a magnitude 7 earthquake almost every year, and a magnitude 8 or greater earthquake on average every 14 years. (USGS, Fact #29.)

In fact, only a handful of states did not experience earthquakes in modern times:

From 1975-1995 there were only four states that did not have any earthquakes. They were: Florida, Iowa, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. (USGS, Fact #20.)

The USGS historical list of earthquakes by state shows that the majority of states have experienced an earthquake at least as big as 4.3 in the last 20 years.

But even if you’re living in a state that doesn’t have a significant earthquake history, chances are you experience some other kind of natural disaster: Floods. Tornadoes. Hurricanes. Extreme cold. Extreme heat. Zombies.

Which led me to wonder, what’s the safest place to live in the United States?

After some half-hearted exploration of CNN, the Red Cross’s site, some out-of-date government publications and a few breathless realtor sites, I have come to the not-so-startling conclusion that no place is safe. Everywhere is vulnerable to something.

So for me? I don’t mind the occasional earthquake if it means I don’t have to shovel snow off my driveway or nail up boards on my windows or make walls out of sandbags.

But, you say. At some point, though, the big one’s going to hit. California’s going to sink into the sea. Right? So how can you live there?

Possibly. But maybe it’s just as likely that wherever you live will be hit by a different “big one” — an off-the-chart hurricane or historic flood or category 5 twister or record freeze or biblical heat.

2 Responses to “Where’s safe?”

  1. Eric Says:

    Actually, the idea that California will fall into the sea is a myth. The reason there are coastal mountain ranges are because California is coming up out of the ocean, not falling into it. There are places where it’s just two plates moving past each other, but neither of them are headed towards the ocean. Take that, Lex Luthor!

  2. Dario Says:

    Man I’m slow to respond to these things. I agree with Eric and will add on. Because we know we’re in an earthquake zone, we are prepared for them. This how we can casually sit in our offices through these earthquakes. In other area’s of the country a quake this size would have caused some damage. A 5 plus would probably bring down buildings.

    Last year when a five hit during a warriors game I was attending, the game didn’t even stop. It just gave the fans in my section something to talk about.

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