U.S. Geological Survey Discusses SoCal Eathquakes In Wake of Small Quakes
Officials with the United States Geological Survey encourage Los Angeles County residents to see recent quakes as a reminder that they should be ready for the next "big one."
Earthquakes have certainly been on the minds of Santa Clarita Valley residents in the last couple of weeks.
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The 5.1-magnitude earthquake in La Habra came Friday, on the eve of the KHTS Emergency Expo, and was felt by many in the SCV.
It was the latest of three moderate earthquakes to strike Los Angeles County since March 15.
Local organizations and government agencies, like Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital and the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department have released safety tips for earthquake survival. They are encouraging families to plan ahead to reduce the risk of injury or damage to property.
But just how likely is it that a “big one” will hit the SCV and surrounding areas in the near future?
Ultimately, the United States Geological Survey can’t predict earthquakes, said Nancy King, a geophysicist with the USGS Pasadena office, but certain factors contribute to the level of damage.
Communities built on hard rock will not shake as much as those built on sediment in a valley or basin, which applies to most L.A. County residents, King said.
The amount of shaking can also depend on what direction the earthquake is coming from.
The number of tall buildings in a community is another important factor.
This is one reason that significant shaking in the downtown Los Angeles area could be devastating.
“Our big sky scrapers have simply not been tested in large earthquakes,” King said, “so nobody really knows how they’ll perform.”
The Puente Hills Fault, which caused Friday’s La Habra earthquake, is positioned to send shockwaves into densely populated downtown Los Angeles, said Robert Graves, a Caltech seismologist interviewed by NBC Los Angeles on Sunday.
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A 7.5-magnitude earthquake in the area has the potential to kill thousands, according to a report by the United States Geological Survey in 2005.
But, the SCV is also just as much at risk to experience a big earthquake as the rest of the county.
“I wouldn’t say that Santa Clarita is safer or less safe than other places,” King said.
L.A. County has not experienced a truly damaging earthquake since the Northridge Earthquake in 1994.
And, the recent smaller earthquakes are not necessarily a sign that a larger one is coming.
Earthquakes can trigger each other, King said, but the process is not completely understood.
“When I entered this field, people thought that one earthquake was not related to another,” she said. “Now we know that earthquakes do influence each other.”
King mentioned a large earthquake in Alaska that triggered smaller quakes across North America.
“Did the earthquake in Encino set off the earthquake in La Habra? We doubt it,” she said.
The best way to respond to these smaller earthquakes is to get ready for the next big one.
“Instead of waiting for us to predict earthquakes,” King said, “people should be ready.”
This includes buying supplies and securing personal belongings so they can’t fall during the shaking.
“We all have way too much stuff,” King said. “Let’s not get killed by it.”
For more information about earthquake safety preparedness, click here.
Kate Larsen and James Wulff of NBC Los Angeles contributed to this report.