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After the 'big one,' will there be a Los Angeles left?

Geothermal Production in the Imperial Valley has increased activities around the San Andreas Fault
Geothermal Production in the Imperial Valley has increased activities around the San Andreas Fault

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If you ask someone who's lived in Los Angeles for a while about the big one and they'll likely say something like, "Oh, I know it's coming... should totally get my earthquake kit ready."

According to Dr. Lucy Jones, a science advisor for risk reduction with the U.S. Geological Survey, organizing an earthquake kit isn't enough. 

She says that we need to completely change our current infrastructure to even begin to cope with the massive damage that will follow a big earthquake.

In a talk she gave Sunday titled "Imagine America Without Los Angeles," Jones says that if an 8.0 San Andreas earthquake happened tomorrow, there's a serious risk that the economic system of California will be so disrupted that it could completely tank. She says that this is because the current regulations and infrastructure in place are inadequate for handling a large earthquake.

The chances of the earthquake happening soon are pretty high. On average there's an earthquake on the San Andreas fault every 150 years. However, it's been about 300 years since the last big one, so Jones is just waiting and expecting.

What part of L.A.'s infrastructure will suffer? The buildings, the utilities and the internet. She says we'll likely lose internet access in the city, about 1 out of every 100 buildings is likely to collapse, and access to water and gas will be compromised. 

"To have a San Andreas earthquake, it means that one side will move with respect to the other some 10-30 feet...All of the infrastructure that supports Los Angeles crosses it," said Jones. "All of the water that comes in from outside, all of the electricity...all of our food...transportation, freeways, natural gas lines...and so all of those things have to cross the fault."

Jones says that there's a cost effective fix, at least for the gas pipelines, and that similar fixes should be put in place for other utilities.

"Let's at least reengineer the gas pipelines crossing the San Andreas so that they won't rupture when that fault moves," she said. 

Economically the impact could be devastating says Jones. "We need to come together as a community to find solutions," she said.