More From The Seismic Risk Forum

by Eli Lehrer on May 3, 2011

photo by California Watch/Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license

I’ve spent a day listening to truly fascinating presentations about Earthquake science. There’s a lot to digest and I’m not ready to draw any conclusions. But here are some observations:

  1. Insurance isn’t a political problem here: While most Californians do not buy earthquake insurance, there’s little complaining about its cost largely. I’d guess this is so largely because earthquake insurance is not required.
  2. Some want to use earthquake issues to advance any number of other goals. I’m sympathetic to some of them like sensible building standards. I’m not sympathetic to others like rent controls and hugely prescriptive planning standards that result in the government telling private property owners exactly how to use their property.  Basically, there’s a lot of ideological baggage that everyone (me included) carries into this.
  3. We’re not going to be able to predict the timing of earthquakes but, based on some of the models I saw, it seems that we’ll be able to make very good guesses about where earthquakes will strike within a few decades.
  4. The certainty of earthquake aftershocks and the fact that they are most common right after a quake does seem to present one pretty clear public policy recommendation: after a major quake, focus on true life-safety-related repairs for the first week or so. Otherwise, you may get what happened in Japan—lots of repairs done just in time for the aftershocks.
  5. Thing in New Zealand are worse than I thought: A big part of Christchurch’s CBD is still devastated. Many people don’t have flush toilets or connections to a real water system. There’s no social breakdown but Christchurch can’t be a pleasant place to live right now.
  6. Building technology is getting a lot better—but the best technology hasn’t been widely installed yet.

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