A wider-angle lens

Particularly at this time of year, when we are watching hurricanes and tropical storms heading for Puerto Rico and the southesastern Atlantic coast of the continental U.S., we tend to focus on natural disaster events and their consequences that occur here in the U.S., but it can improve our perspective to widen our view occasionally and look out at what is happening globally.

Thanks to Cara Breeden, who posts weekly about publications and resources available to assist with emergency preparedness and response on the DIMRC listserv, I arrived at an excellent tool for achieving this wider view in a report published by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disaster (CRED), entitled “Annual Disaster Statistical Review 2009:  the numbers and trends.”   The report is well written, and also nicely augmented with charts that tell the stories visually.  See especially pages 12 and 13 for charts that show a telling overview of worldwide natural disasters in 2009, and especially see the “Thematic Frames,” one on storms in Europe and Asia (p. 15) and one on earthquakes (p. 21).  Both of these special topics emphasize how important preparation has been for these events, from more early-warning systems to encouraging  better building practices in earthquake-prone areas, but also how much work remains to be done.  There is an excellent list of definitions of the types of disaster events near the end of the report; see Annex 1 on page 31.

While providing a wealth of detailed information, the report does, as its title says, show trends based on the data; the most important tool we have for making preparedness plans.

Today in earthquake history

The U.S. Geological Survey has made available a wealth of information about earthquakes, among them the “Today in Earthquake History” page .  A look at the page for May 4 shows several significant earthquakes around the world, two of which were in Alaska in 1923 and 1934.  By looking at the “Earthquake Reports” section in the left menu bar here on the Toolkit, you will note that Alaska is experiencing tremors again today.  The USGS has also provided an excellent Preparedness and Response page, all important information, particularly for everyone who lives on the west coast of North America, Alaska and Hawaii.

15 years ago in Northridge, CA

In January of 1994, the Northridge area of California was shaken by a level 6.7 earthquake, which devastated the area, including California State University at Northridge. See Susan Curzon’s story of the destruction of her library at CSU, and how they responded by getting services back up and running in temporary shelters and with limited staffing. (This story and more are available from the “Library Disaster Stories” page here on the toolkit.)

Earthquake damage to the rear side of the Oviatt Library.  Image from Susan Curzon's story.

Earthquake damage to the rear side of the Oviatt Library. Image from Susan Curzon's story.

Today, in the “Emergency Preparedness News” section in the left column of the toolkit, you can see a story about the earthquake drill that is scheduled for Stanford University in early February. It is interesting to see how well their preparedness planners have used the lessons learned from previous incidents in their area and have planned the drill to deal with issues they know they will face when the next quake occurs.

The toolkit has two additional resources for preparedness and risk assessment related specifically to earthquakes. (1) See the “Earthquakes” RSS feed available in the list of RSS feeds on the left, and (2) under “Risk Assessment Maps and Charts” on the right, see the Earthquake map produced by the USGS showing earthquake probability for all of the U.S. The USGS says that over 75 million people live in earthquake-prone zones in the U.S., which affect 39 states.

Charleston Earthquake of 1886

Last week I was preparing for a presentation for the NLM site visit at the SE/A RML and noticed that there is a higher degree of earthquake risk for the coastal region of South Carolina (see map below). Investigating further, I learned about the Charleston earthquake of 1886. (Click on the link below for further information.) I also discovered that earthquakes in the eastern United States are felt for greater distance than earthquakes in the western United States. For example, the 1811 earthquake in western Tennessee rang church bells in Boston, Mass. (Reference: http://quake.wr.usgs.gov/prepare/factsheets/NewMadrid/.)

Charleston Earthquake