The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Debunking earthquake myths

An earthquake of a 4.6 magnitude rumbled through the San Fernando Valley on August 9, striking at 12:58 a.m. A week later, on Aug. 16, a 3.5 magnitude aftershock hit a few miles above Chatsworth, centered close to the location of the previous week’s quake.

To many residents of California, earthquakes are no big deal. As many as 12 earthquakes can occur during one day, but most are too small to be noticed by the average person.

Sophomore biology major Sam Rabizadeh was not too concerned about August’s earthquakes.

“During the earthquakes, I just saw everything shaking. One of my cologne bottles fell over. I’ve slept through earthquakes before, and if another big one does happen, I know what to do,” Rabizadeh said.

Even geology-savvy employees are not especially worried about “the big one” showing up.

“We understand earthquakes a little more because of our department,” said Mari Flores, the geology department’s secretary. “When the building is shaking, other departments call us and say, ‘Did you feel that?’, and we say, ‘Oh, we felt it- it’s no big deal!'”

Terry Dunn, the geology department’s administrative support assistant, said “On a positive side, I feel that we are prepared here at CSUN for a large earthquake.”

Although many people don’t worry about when “the big one” will hit, people are curious about if its time, location and magnitude can be predicted.

CSUN graduate student, geology teaching assistant and geophysicist Joel Wedberg said, “The exact prediction of when an earthquake will happen is impossible. The question is, over what timeframe will the big one occur?”

Wedberg explained earthquakes are often predicted through speculation about their occurrence by looking at things called recurrence intervals, the average time span between fault ruptures. Recurrence intervals are a useful measurement for assessing the slip rate of the fault, a crack in Earth’s crust that shows signs of slipping, and the risk the fault presents.

Despite the mystery behind earthquakes, there are many myths surrounding earthquakes and earthquake safety that need to be clarified.

One of the most common myths is small earthquakes, like the ones the San Fernando Valley experienced in August, are “good signs,” as they mean that pressure is being released from the earth’s core, thus reducing the risk of a large earthquake.

“That is not true,” Wedberg said. “Each small earthquake moves the tectonic plates some distance, and for every magnitude point an earthquake increases by, there’s a huge leap in energy release.”

Another myth Wedberg dispelled is that standing under a door frame will keep you safe during a large quake.

“If the building was built after 1935, under a door frame is not a good place to be,” he said.

Standing under a door frame during an earthquake will only help protect you from damage if the building was constructed prior to 1935, as doorways back then were built into the “skeleton” of the house, thus supporting more weight. Due to construction changes later on, door frames just became more like gaps in the house.

Wedberg said that if you are in a building when an earthquake hits, it is usually the safest choice to stay in the building.

“Stay inside of a building if you’re inside. I wouldn’t leave the building, and I wouldn’t recommend you do either,” Wedberg said.

“Fronts of buildings can cascade down, and if you’re running around out there, you’re a scrapbook,” he said. “Earthquakes don’t kill people, structures do.”

Though it is impossible to predict when or where the next big earthquake will happen, Wedberg gave some helpful tips for those wondering about being prepared for an earthquake disaster.

One of the most important tips Wedberg offered was to make sure your bed is not under a window or large hanging object.

Violent shaking from a large earthquake will likely shatter glass, and if you are sleeping when it occurs, you’ll be rolling around in broken glass for the duration of the quake.

As for supplies to have on hand, Wedberg said, “Certain organizations will try and sell you space blankets and astronaut food and all sorts of stuff like that, but you don’t need all of that.”

“You absolutely cannot do without water. Have enough to keep you going for at least four days to a week. You want to be as self-reliant as possible,” he said.

Wedberg also suggested having a small amount of cash on hand, in small bills.

“If a large enough earthquake strikes, your ATM card will not be accepted. Everything will be cash and carry,” he said.

Cash would be handy for purchasing food and sundries if all computer systems and electrical wires went down.

In addition to cash and water, Wedberg recommends knowing where your flashlight is and opting for a self-charging flashlight, many of which are charged by using a small hand crank. Having a pair of sturdy shoes under the bed is also recommended, as it can save your feet from potential injury walking through rubble.

Master of social work student Diana Amarilio is prepared for when the next big earthquake strikes.

“I have a first aid kit, flashlight, batteries, extra can of gasoline, food and I know how to shut off my gas,” she said.

However, she doesn’t worry too much about when the next big one will strike because she has experienced earthquakes before.

“The shakers don’t bother me. It’s when things start falling off the shelves that I start to worry,” Amarilio said.

CSUN’s geology department works in association with the Southern California Earthquake Center, which is centered at the University of Southern California. SCEC’s primary purpose is to gather data on earthquakes in Southern California and to communicate understanding to the society about useful knowledge for reducing earthquake risk.

For more information about the science behind earthquakes, earthquake safety and earthquake myths, visit SCEC’s Web Site

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