Out In The Ocean & Deep In The Earth, Danger Lurks
2017 was one of the most devastating hurricane seasons on record. It was the most expensive one in U.S. history – estimates are north of $200 billion over 17 named storms.
We covered the stories of survival and loss in numerous articles after the storms, and you can find links to those at the bottom of this article.
Today, I want to zoom out a bit and compare what we know about hurricanes (including what we learned last season) with its equally devastating cousin – the earthquake.
Let’s start with a set of common hurricane features:
- Affect coastal regions; in the U.S., only the eastern seaboard –
- Cause damage via high winds and heavy rain.
- Their development is seasonal, can be monitored and predicted with some accuracy – allowing early warning of up to a few days.
Now, let’s look at some ways in which earthquakes differ:
- Affect areas with active fault lines. There are five major ones in the U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii. Nearly half of the U.S. population is vulnerable to earthquakes. More on active U.S. fault lines below.
- Cause damage by ground shaking – can produce tsunamis, landslides and occasionally volcanic activity.
- While seismic activity can be monitored, prediction and detection are not nearly as accurate as with hurricanes. More on the difficulty of predicting earthquakes in a moment. At this point, we must assume an earthquake will come with no warning.
The biggest difference we see is the last point – the ability to monitor, predict and warn people. The ability for people to hunker down or evacuate before a hurricane is a luxury people who will inevitably deal with an earthquake don’t have.
However, just because hurricanes can be modeled doesn’t mean the predictions from those models are accurate. Nor do the warning based on these predictions always get heeded.
Regardless of how much time a disaster affords you, it’s only ever enough time to spring into action. No disaster, natural or manmade, will give you enough time to prepare before it hits. We cannot stress this enough. If a crisis is in the news, chances are no deliveries of emergency food will make it to you. Roads will be blocked.
The only real difference is that in an earthquake, you’ll have to be quicker and more decisive to get to safety and survive. This is where extensive planning is absolutely critical.
This fact is unlikely to change soon – new "early warning" technology for earthquakes still has a way to go.
According to the Seismological Society of America, "Mexico’s earthquake early warning system gave Mexico City’s residents almost two minutes of warning prior to the arrival of [an earthquake on September 7, 2017]." However, less than 10 days later, the magnitude 7.1 earthquake of September 19th, much closer to Mexico City, afforded residents only a few seconds of warning.
A Mexican researcher said that analysis of these failures on September 19th has helped them make fixes so they are able to warn residents with "eight to ten seconds." That’s only a few more seconds than the last test. The researcher added, "To me, this shows that we should not be [too] enamored of the technology." Indeed.
So how likely is an earthquake in the U.S.?
All signs point to very likely.
Most experts seismologists and geologists say that a catastrophic quake is very likely in the next 30 years. Like 99.9% likely. The interesting point they have made is that it’s not just the west coast that’s at the greatest risk.
Yes California and the Pacific Northwest are prone to truly monstrous earthquakes due to the San Andreas Fault and the Cascadia Subduction Zone, but others are just as likely to be active and devastating.
The New Madrid Seismic Zone is one that many are watching – the most active east of the Rocky Mountains. It spans five states – southeastern Missouri, northeastern Arkansas, western Tennessee, western Kentucky and southern Illinois.
One historical earthquake in the New Madrid zone was so powerful it rang church bells in Boston and shook New York City. Another large rupture in the fault caused the Mississippi River to flow backward, devastating acres of forest.
Another less known earthquake zone is known as the Ramapo Seismic Zone. It covers Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York – one of the most populous regions in the nation. While the Ramapo has remained quiet for nearly 200 years, even minor activity in this region could be catastrophic.
We’ve certainly been seeing an uptick in seismic activity – especially this year.
In fact, if we look at local news around the country, the picture becomes clearer. 3 earthquakes were detected in 4 days just last week off the Oregon coast. Yellowstone’s Steamboat Geyser has erupted a record 3 times in 6 weeks. The last time it erupted was in 2014. And Hawaii has experienced 150 quakes in a 24-hour period this week as a sign of a pending volcanic event where tsunamis are always a threat. Something to keep our eyes on for sure.
This merely scratches the surface – no pun intended – of what we’re up against with earthquakes. They need to be taken seriously by all Americans.
Luckily, preparedness is not nearly as complicated as predicting the emergencies we prepare for.
While the causes and effects of hurricanes and earthquakes are different, the planning is largely the same.
Remember, the head of FEMA has admitted the ongoing failures of his agency. Only a few months ago, he told news media that he wanted Americans to understand three fundamental truths:
- FEMA is broke.
- The system is broken.
- If this is the new normal, Americans can't rely on a federal cavalry when disaster strikes. They will have to take care of themselves.
Then he told the Florida Governor's Conference on Hurricanes this month that state and local emergency management would also be on their own for at least 3 days. He said:
If you don’t have the ability to do things such as provide your own food and water and your own commodities to your citizens for the first 48 to 72 hours...I can’t guarantee that we can be right on time to backfill everything you need.
First, cover the basic needs in your plan.
Food and water preparations will look virtually identical – at least 3 months’ worth for every person in your household is what we recommend.
Your shelter needs might be slightly different based on bugging out or sheltering in place, but both a hurricane and an earthquake will necessitate you plan for both. The deployment may be different, but the plan is very similar.
Sure, if you’re in a hurricane-prone region, you might buy plywood in advance to board up your home. You might need more rain and water rescue gear. Or, you might want ventilators to prevent inhalation of particles in the rubble-ridden zone near the epicenter. But these customizations should only be considered when the basic needs of survival are met. A ventilator or rain jacket will do you no good if you’re starving or dehydrated.
Over the next few months, we’ll of course be keeping our eye on hurricanes. The official start to the season is June 1. But we’ll also be talking more about earthquakes as well, something we believe deserves just as much research for your preparedness plans.
We hope you’ve found this helpful. Remember, fear of these disasters is only a consequence of our lack of knowledge. Once we can rationally assess these risks, our plans come easy.
Stick to the basics of survival first, though, and you will succeed.
Have a great weekend friends. Stay vigilant and safe out there!
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply
Previous articles on Hurricanes:
- 30 Million FEMA Meals Missing
- Dispatches from Irma
- Rebuilding a Stronger America in the Wake of Hurricanes