The state of California and in particular the city of Los Angeles is hit by earthquakes repeatedly for an exceedingly long time. According to United States Geological Survey (2012), an earthquake of magnitude of 3.2 hit New Hall on Friday at around 3:39 a.m. This year alone, 31 earthquakes have hit California alone. This is an indicator of how risky our state is and the need to learn more about how to handle the situation in case a catastrophe occurs.
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The Federal Emergency Management Agency places Los Angeles in the very high risk category of hazards due to earthquakes. The most severe hazard is the effect of ground shaking. During an earthquake, the waves cause the land to vibrate and shake. This can cause buildings to collapse leading to massive destruction of property and loss of lives. Nelson (2011) asserts that earthquakes don’t kill; instead it is the buildings and other human constructions that lead to loss of lives. The ground shaking can also cause mud slides, avalanches and landslides in hilly parts of Los Angeles. In the past, Los Angeles has experienced deaths due to earthquakes. In 1994 alone, an earthquake caused 171 injuries of which 34 were fatalities.
Surface faulting is another hazard caused by an earthquake of Richter magnitude of more than 5.5. Surface faulting can cause displacement of buildings, roads, bridges, and pipelines. Earthquakes can cause the rupturing of water bodies such as Sepulveda Dam and Big Tujunga Dam, or levees along the Los Angeles river banks. The water may then flood the area causing damage to property and drowning people. Fire outbreak can be caused by broken gas lines and power lines. Accidents in industries using inflammable chemicals or coal may accelerate the problem.
An earthquake is a sudden tremor of the earth’s crust originating from the earth’s surface. They can be caused by two ways. One is through explosive volcanic eruptions. This is usually common in areas prone to volcanic activities. The second cause is tectonic activity linked with faults and plate margins. They occur when two sides of a fault slides against each other. When plates move past each other, they cause friction which creates stress. The stress is released along the faulty plane sending waves of elastic energy called seismic waves. A seismometer measures this magnitude of the seismic waves to be recorded in a seismograph.
The earth’s crust consists of 20 plates. California happens to be on a different plate with North America. Instead, it lies on Pacific plate. The two plates move on the opposite direction causing along the San Andreas Fault. There are also other smaller faults such as San Jacinto, Imperial faults and Elsinore found in Los Angeles. A report by Lovett (2008) says that there are more than 300 faults in California. At points where the fault bends, the Pacific and North American plates push against each other creating additional faults which cause smaller earthquakes throughout the year.
In the past, we have experienced catastrophic disasters caused by earthquakes. On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti causing a three-meter tsunami. This led to the death of more than 200,000 people and destruction property worth millions of dollars (Lovett, 2010). In 2011, an earthquake with magnitude of 9.03 hit the coast of Japan. It resulted to tsunami waves reaching 40.5 meters high. It led heavy damage on roads, railway lines, collapse of dams and even nuclear accidents. This tsunami had far reached effects on the coasts of Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean. Countries like India, Philippines, Indonesia and Sri-Lanka experienced fatalities as people at the coast were caught unaware by the strong waves.
Looking forward, it is less likely that Los Angeles will see more than ten years of loss-free experience. The fact that it lies above two plates that move in the opposite direction increases the risk. However, measure must be put in place to ensure that the level of collateral damage and loss of lives is put at the minimum. It can be noted that the industry is better prepared to handle any eventualities than in the past. Milestone advancements in scientific, modeling and risk management industries have improved the city’s disaster preparedness. However, a lot need to be done in respect to earthquake insurance.
Only a small percentage of people insure themselves against damage, injuries and loss arising from earthquakes. Insurance industry, on the other hand, is shying away from offering earthquake related products. This is due to poor probabilistic risk assessment models that they can use to predict with certainty the likelihood and extent of loss from an earthquake. The government needs to emphasize on training residents on how to handle the situation in case an earthquake occurs. For catastrophe survival, effective communication systems, prepared citizens and ready emergency services are necessary. Both locals and federal government must be prepared for the unthinkable.
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