Is the US Ready if a 9.0 Earthquake Struck?

Natural disasters like that in Japan can happen to any and all of us, no matter in the world we all. The March 12th New York Times describes the ‘surprisingly destructive’ power of water’:

…. when water is moving at 30 or 40 miles an hour, like the tsunami that inundated northern Japan on Friday, the heaviness of water turns deadly. Imagine 1,700 pounds hitting you at that speed, and each cubic yard of water as another 1,700 pounds bearing down on you. The destructiveness of a tsunami is not just one runaway car, but a fleet of them.

And, according to Harry Yeh, a professor of ocean engineering at Oregon State University, the earthquake on Friday resulted in a change to the ocean floor itself. The tsunami pushed a section of it 250 miles long and 50 miles down by an average of one yard, with the result that billions of cubic yards of water—that is, trillions of pounds, suddenly shifted position. We’ve no real idea of how such a change might affect other parts of the planet.

In addition to the damage that a tsunami can inflict along coastlines in particular countries, it can also have an effect on the entire earth. The planet’s oceans are very heavy, applying enormous pressure to the ocean crust. When the distribution of that pressure is shifted, as it is during an earthquake, it can induce wobbles in the earth’s rotation.

At Scientific American, Richard Allen writes about how the disaster in Japan could have been even worse. Japan is on of the most earthquake-prone regions of the world, but it has ‘steadily pushed the limits of earthquake preparedness.’ However,

In the U.S. we also have an earthquake problem. Our west-coast cities are built atop active fault zones that give us occasional jolts reminding us of their presence from time to time. The 1989 magnitude 7.0 Loma Prieta earthquake was one such reminder, as was the 1994 magnitude 6.7 Northridge earthquake. Both events were moderate in size and the strongest shaking was in unpopulated mountainous areas. We have not seen the true power of west-coast earthquakes since 1906 when a magnitude 8 earthquake destroyed San Francisco. Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, or Seattle could be next.

An earthquake of almost as great a magnitude as that in Japan last week could strike the US and we’re not ready. Allen lists what we need to do:

Modern buildings are built to standards that make them unlikely to collapse, but we need to focus on improving older buildings to bring them up to modern standards. We need more education about earthquake preparedness in our schools, and large-scale drills such as the California Shake-Out. And we need a warning system, like the one that delivered a warning in Japan.

Earthquakes are common in Greece too and many buildings are built solidly to strict codes but not so in the US—which is to say, not only could an earthquake like that which struck Japan occur in the US: The destruction could be even, could be far, worse.

When hearing about cataclysmic events like these, many of us—perhaps unconsciously—breathe a sigh of relief that ‘it happened somewhere else.’ But we need to remember that natural disasters—earthquakes, tsunamis, flooding—can happen, have happen, everywhere.

I first heard about the the tsunami in Japan from a TV monitor in Frankfurt. I was at the airport on a layover with a group of students from my college: We were en route to Greece. I haven’t been able to be online too much as we have been traveling to different archaeological sites. I’ve been checking the news as much as I can and did hear our tour guide talking about Japan.

One site we visited was ancient Olympia, where the original Olympic games were held. At the temple of Jupiter, the tour guide described how an earthquake in the 6th century AD as powerful as the one that struck Japan—9.0 on the Richter scale—had destroyed the temple and flung its massive marble columns around its base like so many Tinker Toys. My students and I walked amid huge fragments of stone columns and tried to imagine what the temple looked like when it was whole.

It’s amazing that some of the Temple of Zeus has survived. But would the Empire State Building?


For more Care2 coverage on the Japanese natural disasters, click here.


Photo by Generationbass.c.


Terry V.
Terry V6 years ago


jane richmond
jane richmond8 years ago

We're not ready for a tornado!

William Y.
William Y8 years ago

I doubt id any country is prepared for a 9 earthquake, probably not an 8, or a 7 for that matter

William Ford
William Ford8 years ago

I know US or Canada is NOT read for that. But the nature often strikes for a reason but the greed cries for the money loss.

Jon Hoy
Jonjon Hoy8 years ago

no one is really ready for an earthquake period. If we spent 98% of our time worrying about earth quakes, where would we be in society? Act of nature or act of God, no one can predict it. Thank you Bette M., but their is good and bad in any culture, race or religion. Some people take freedom to an extreme cause they lost respect on how freedom really is. If everyone respected , the world would be a better place. :-)

Brunschwig k.
Mme. B8 years ago

This is the right time to become conscious of God and his creations. Man thinks he can do whatever he wants as he can express his thoughts through words and has the great ability to build. He uses this ability more and more to destroy. Man must become modest and begin to respect nature and all its children. Killing and Massacre always creates natural disaster. Man knows very well that just Money can not bring happiness. In fact the happiness we get from the material comfort is in the absence of mental Peace as the tendency of almost all governments is to become rich at any cost. People become what the Government. So automatically the values disappear. The honesty disappears. A big vacuum is created inside our way of living.
I do hope that man will stop all his experiments on animals, stop his torture to animals, Stop being greedy by allowing himself to interfere in the plant, animal kingdom and make use of everything (which do not speak and resist ) as he wishes. Let Man become vegetarian if not at least learns to consume animal-meat just what his body needs. Why do man needs to eat whale and dolphin meats when lots of vegetables,fruits, cereals and animals products are available in great quantity?

Walter G.
Walter G8 years ago

I asked one of the people I correspond with, not living in the US myself, if he was ready, along with his family, for a devastating natural disaster. He said they were indeed, car dealerships first, then appliance stores to pick up a large screen TV, jewelry stores and supermarkets.

Bette M.
Bette M8 years ago

Bernadette P. wrote:
The media would have a field day with all the screaming,crying,shouting, complaining etc..

The peopleof Japan have been exceedingly dignified throughout all of this tragedy. I recall all of the wailing, screaming, crying & much fear being filmed during the whole thing of Katrina. Even that dumbass mayor had the gall to to make a speech at the city county building "that this is our chocolate city!" Had anyone else said that their would have been a riot on top of the flooding.

The Japanese & blacks are poles apart in their attitude & reaction to any given natural or man made disaster. Of all the scenes & filming of the people of Japan I saw no looting nor anyone hiding out on top of buildings to fearful to leave of being shot by looters as was the case with one set of foreign visitors in N.O.(All of it was filmed of the people on a roof top hotel.)

People are different in their cultural upbringing & react accordingly. Blacks or any other minority group should take a lesson from the attitude the Japanese have heroically displayed through out all of this tragedy.

Plant & protect Danny's trees for life in 2011.
Ttrees are the lungs of the earth.......

Kay L.
KayL NOFORWARDS8 years ago

And look at the biggest upcoming disaster of all -- climate change -- and hardly anyone is truly preparing!

Jonathan Y.
Jonathan Y8 years ago

As a society and a culture, we Americans are about as prepared as the grasshoper was for winter.

It's foolish and futile to say you can't do anything. Of course you can! You can legislate better engineering and better evacuation/ medical facilities. It DOES make a difference, just check out the previous Kobe quake in japan - buildings that were reinforced saved lives, old buildings that were not killed thousands of innocent people, including schoolchildren. Same thing in Chile.

Just wait until the Yellowstone Caldera blows. It's about due now, and is one of the biggest megavolcanoes on the earth's crust. Would affect the entire northern and eastern U.S. And are we preparing for it? Stupidly no, aside from a few government studies.