Looking at the effects of an earthquake is truly amazing; the destruction caused can be catastrophic! They can leave a trail of untold damage including, hospitals being disabled, fractured highways, damaged airports, damaged harbours, free flowing sewerage, water contamination, flaming gas lines, oil spilling into the sea, landslides, floods, collapsed buildings and the obvious violent shaking of the earth or ground.
This short essay will be looking at the effects of an earthquake, whether human innovation has a role to play and seeing where or why there’s a need for it?
California and particularly San Francisco have been prone to some of the most prominent earthquakes known; this is due to the location of the continent and state. San Francisco is sited on the San Andreas Fault, the edge of the North American plate (that carries most of the continent) and the edge of the Pacific plate (which carries most of the California coastline). Where these two plates meet there is a hive of activity as they attempt to move past each other at an average speed of four centimetres(cm) per year (a similar rate to which finger nails grow). This action normally causes small tremors, but sometimes the rocks can’t stand the enormous stress put on them by this process. As they force their way past each other an enormous amount of violent energy is released usually causing an earthquake.
The infrastructure of a society is a number of things that can make an environment a safe and functional place to be. The services, roads, railways, bridges, factories and schools all form the infrastructure with perhaps the services being the most important. The police, fire, ambulance, hospitals and the military are all very crucial to the community after an earthquake for obvious reasons.
This was especially true in the years 1906 and 1989, where the world witnessed two of the biggest earthquakes ever to be recorded. This meant (especially in 1906) that the infrastructure was virtually bought to a halt! However, the difference in disaster between the two earthquakes is quite significant and a lot of this is down to human innovation. The earlier earthquake recorded more on the Richter scale and was at a different time of the day, in comparison the later earthquake caused less damage.
Human Innovation (or the introduction of new ideas for a particular item or structure), has been mainly responsible for a safer and less damaged environment both during and after an earthquake. These ideas and practises involve the erection of buildings on rubber foundations (or legs), the materials in road and bridge construction being more flexible and less likely to snap, crack or collapse due to the shock and trembling of an earthquake. All of this preparation for an event of such magnitude that might occur every 80 years or 5 years and last for only several seconds is put in place to try to ensure public safety. Nobody really knows when and where the next earthquake will strike, or in fact how big it will register. This is why such phenomena as avalanches, freak flooding and earthquakes are known as natural disasters. Geologists claim to have an idea as to when these events may occur, although they can never be one hundred percent sure!
Engineers and scientists have been working together in building safer structures, saving lives and investing millions of dollars doing the required research for many years. Scientists learn about earth movement during a quake and structural engineers use this information to design stronger and more flexible buildings. Engineers must understand the stress caused by the shaking of an earthquake to be able to design these safer buildings. Scientists place probes and monitors (seismographs) in buildings near the ground to measure the response of a building and the ground movement during an earthquake. The new information gathered enables engineers to improve designs and building codes. Building codes provide the first line of defence against damage and help ensure public safety. They are revised regularly and new buildings are now designed to resist Earthquake forces 50% stronger then they could in the early nineteen hundreds.
The cost of these new requirements is very high, but not as high as the total cost for a brand new building. The public of these prone areas contribute to a fund; it’s a fixed rate and in 1989 was set at $19 per person per year. This is called the Earthquake Preparedness Budget. Today there are instruments in hospitals, bridges, dams, aqueducts and other structures across the prone areas of the world. The majority of deaths and injury are caused by the collapse of structures, an example of this is The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco which was strengthened prior to the 1989 disaster and therefore survived it.
Other ways in which people can prepare for these disasters include the internet, where you can look at the very latest quake information, health and safety issues, educational links, general information and of course preparedness. This information is posted on the internet at various web sites by the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
Another aspect is the millions of dollars being spent each year to safeguard the power, water, gas and communication systems. Old gas pipe is being replaced by one hundred miles every year, as with the older water piping. Transformers, circuit breakers and other critical components of the electrical system are constantly being replaced and updated. Installation of generators to provide back up in the case of an inevitable power cut.
There is a government programme in place which trains employers, employees, and citizens to respond effectively to earthquakes. Also earthquake shelters are being introduced to schools, hospitals, factories and shopping centres. Large corporations such as IBM and GENETECH are funding their own operations in all of the above mentioned.
As we speak the people in these disaster areas are virtually racing against time and implementing these practices. Mainly because scientists are expecting another large quake in the imminent future, but can’t be sure exactly when?
Through improved innovation and understanding of past earthquakes and other natural disasters, the information generated has motivated and inspired communities, the Government and corporations to prepare. By planning for emergency situations, by training people, by strengthening facilities and with improved scientific practices then it has become more likely to survive an earthquake with less destruction to infrastructure.
Based on the above facts it is reasonable to conclude that the answer to the above question has to be that human innovation does greatly minimise the impact of earthquakes! Any idea or practice that safeguards or benefits human life, communities, towns, cities, states or even an entire country has to be a good thing. There is an old 17c Proverb and in this case it’s perfect for points and facts that have been mentioned; the proverb is “PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE”.