Quake expert is not shocked by tremors


Residents filled The Riford Center on June 23 to learn what they could about area earthquakes from UCSD professor of geophysics Duncan Agnew.

“When’s the big one?” someone shouted from the audience.

“We don’t know. We can’t see them coming,” Agnew shot back.

And despite well-broadcasted reports of earthquakes lately, Agnew, who has studied plate tectonics for more than 30 years, said the rate of earthquakes has not gone up.

“We see lots of patterns, but they never seem to repeat themselves,” he said of the research that has been done by Cal Tech since 1832. “San Diegans don’t have to worry too much because we are not that close to active faults.”

Agnew reminded the crowd that earthquakes result from the shaking of the ground caused by an abrupt shift of rock along a fracture in the Earth, called a fault. Within seconds, an earthquake releases stress that has slowly accumulated within the rock, sometimes over hundreds of years.

“If any shaking goes on long in San Diego, there won’t be destruction here but to poorly anchored china on shelves,” Agnew said.

It’s the country of Iran, he suggested, that should have serious earthquake worries. A quake could be “due” in the next decade, and Iranian building structures are very poor along the danger zones.

“Lessening fatalities from earthquakes all comes down to having building standards that construction companies comply with, and inspectors who are not corrupt,” Agnew told the crowd. “In Third World countries, that’s a formula that’s hard to come by.”

When questioned about last week’s tremors, Agnew explained that they are still aftershocks from the earthquake that struck Easter Sunday along the Laguna Salada Fault line in Baja California. It was reported as the biggest earthquake to hit the region in 20 years. The quake was felt more than 300 miles from the epicenter, and there were more than 100 aftershocks in the 24 hours that followed.

CBS News reported that it was 10 times larger in magnitude than the 1994 Northridge quake, which killed 72 people, injured more than 9,000, and destroyed buildings and two freeway ramps in Los Angeles.

For those who remain concerned about a big earthquake in San Diego, Agnew suggested “basic readiness.” He advised residents to visit, a site focused on Southern California.

He downplayed any advancing dangers, adding, “If an earthquake should rock you, enjoy the ride; it’s not going to swallow you up.”

Drop. Cover. Hold on!

During earthquakes, drop to the floor, take cover under a sturdy desk or table, and hold on to it

firmly. Be prepared to move with it until the shaking stops.

— Source: