SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 27 (Xinhua) -- In light of new findings by seismologists in California and recent earthquakes outside the United States, a U.S. researcher has called for long-term planning to deal with a big event.
Mary Comerio, a professor in the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley, believes there are two parts to disaster preparedness: the physical stuff, namely making buildings and bridges stronger; and the administrative stuff, namely thinking about what issues are going to happen, and then making a plan.
"Planning is cheap," Comerio told Berkeley News. "All you have to do is sit around a table and think about it. Write it down. Rehearse it. It's hard to get people to do that."
In California, on the U.S. west coast, seismologists with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) recently discovered that the Hayward Fault, considered the most dangerous fault in the San Francisco Bay Area, is connected to the Rodgers Creek Fault. If the two faults ruptured simultaneously, it could cause major devastation.
Acknowledging that residents of the Bay Area are "better in California than in most places because we had these little wake-up calls," Comerio said "it took until this last round of international events, all the earthquakes that started happening around 2008, 2010, in Japan, in New Zealand, Chile ... in developed countries. And then people thought, 'It could happen here.'"
"We are going to have a major earthquake in an urban area at some point in the future. And when we do, we are going to have a whole lot of people with huge mortgages and no way to pay for the repairs. And that's going to be a very serious public policy issue. We could see the kinds of foreclosures we saw in the 2008 financial crisis. And would there be a federal bailout of some kind? Who knows? It totally depends on the politics of the time."
Comerio recognized that there is always something more politically pressing: the earthquake might happen tomorrow or it might happen in 25 years.
"Politicians are hoping it won't happen on their watch. Why should they spend money on something that's not going to get them brownie points with the electorate, whereas if they do a tax rebate or some other social program, it's going to have a direct impact on voters?"
And, she believed that the same goes for families. "Should you brace your house's foundation or get braces for your kid's teeth? It's why it's so hard to get people to do long-range planning."
How can individuals prepare now to become more resilient? Her answer: Think about your situation and make a plan. Think about where you live, where you work, where your children are in school. What sort of risks might your family encounter? And how would you deal with that? How would you deal with it if one of your kids had their apartment building collapse? Or their dorm?
The expert in disaster recovery and reconstruction advised that "you don't have to do everything all at once, but thinking about it - taking some time to step back and think about it and decide which things you can tackle - is important. At least you're thinking about it."
And about "the administrative stuff," she suggested incorporating disaster recovery into larger planning and broader thinking, namely "the things you do to make a place, a city, a country, a government, a state better. It can't just function for something that might happen in 20 years; it actually needs to do some good now. So policies need to have social benefits in the present as well as reducing the risks over the long term."
The efforts, which involve changing building codes and planning attitudes, will make recovery easier, or make it less problematic, less damage to begin with, said Comerio.
At UC Berkeley, she said, the most exciting work is what's coming out from recent Ph.D. students who blend engineering modeling with city planning modeling about growth, and then being able to show how they can gain risk reduction through certain kinds of city policies or urban planning policies.
"We're beginning to develop a more sophisticated and linked way of modeling that is helping to demonstrate the benefits of this kind of thinking and planning."