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Was the San Andreas Movie Fact or Fantasy?

Was the San Andreas Movie Fact or Fantasy?

Summer 2015 brought a massive California earthquake to theaters across the country.  We saw incredible destruction, with skyscrapers completely destroyed, a powerful tsunami hitting the West Coast and even the Hoover Dam collapsing in the move titled San Andreas.  Movie-goers left the theaters wondering if such a devastating earthquake could actually happen.

Most people on the West Coast, including property owners in San Bernadino, have heard about the next “BIG ONE” occurring somewhere along the San Andreas Fault.  While the actual threat of a “BIG ONE” is true and simply frightening, most of the scenes witnessed in the movie will not happen when the anticipated “BIG ONE” does occur.  Because the San Andreas Fault is located inland with two tectonic plates slipping by each other, the fault will not split apart into a huge gap like is shown in the movie.  Even the strongest of earthquakes along this fault would never create a massive tsunami great enough to swell over the city of San Francisco.  In fact, tsunamis are caused by quakes that create a major shift of the ocean floor.  While the scientists in San Andreas warned that the massive earthquake would be felt from California to the East Coast, seismologists say even the largest possible San Andreas earthquake would only be detected by seismographs located as far away as the East Coast, more than 2,500 miles away.

San Andreas was an exciting movie, but it was based on fantasy, rather than reality.  Of course, the “BIG ONE” is expected within the next 25-30 years and there will be plenty of destruction when it happens.  Much research has been done regarding the San Andreas Fault.  Research scientists think that a great amount of stress has built up along the fault in Southern California. This stress will need to be released, sometime in the near future.  When that happens, southern California will experience major seismic activity – the “BIG ONE”.  In fact, the stress release will most likely cause additional earthquakes and aftershocks for a number of years.

There are many other faults located throughout California, but the San Andreas Fault is most the troublesome.  History has shown that it has generated the strongest and most destructive earthquake activity.  In northern California, stress was released in the northern part of the fault during the Great Earthquake of 1906 which devastated San Francisco.  The southern part of the fault, however, has not ruptured in many years.  Based on the records of prior earthquakes, as well as various earthquake studies, research shows that Southern California typically experiences powerful earthquakes every 110-140 years.   The Fort Tejon quake in 1857, near San Bernadino, was the last mega-powerful quake (magnitude 7.9).  Areas farther south have not experienced a major quake in more than 300 years.  Experts say that enough stress has built up along the southern part of the fault and it will eventually have to rupture.

Currently, scientists do not have a way to predict an earthquake, although they periodically release forecasts for the likelihood of seismic activity.  The most current forecast estimates that there is a 7% chance of a powerful (magnitude 8) earthquake occurring sometime in the next 30 years.  While there is a possibility for an 8.3 magnitude earthquake occurring if the entire San Andreas Fault ruptures (from Northern California to the border of Mexico), seismologists say that is not likely to happen.  They also say that a 9.6 magnitude quake, as depicted in the movie, will never happen along the San Andreas Fault.

An 8.0 magnitude earthquake is mighty powerful.  If, and when, the “BIG ONE” occurs, it will sever electric, water and telephone lines, disrupt roads and transportation systems and severely damage older buildings that have not been adequately strengthened to meet current building codes.  It has been predicted that such a violent quake will cause $200 billion or more in damage.  In addition, more that 2,000 deaths and 50,000 injuries are predicted based on scientific models.

Even though many of the scenarios shown in the San Andreas movie are pure fantasy, it is important to remember that powerful and devastating earthquakes do occur.  Commercial property owners need to be aware of their building’s vulnerabilities, scheduling the necessary maintenance or a seismic retrofit, to increase the safety of their property.  Now is the time to make sure your building is strong enough to handle the rocking, rolling and jolting of a major earthquake.  It is a property owner’s responsibility to ensure that tenants, employees and customers are as safe as possible when the “BIG ONE” hits.  If you are a commercial property owner and would like more information, call the experts at Saunders Commercial Seismic Retrofit.  Their team will complete a full building inspection and provide a detailed estimate based on the necessary maintenance required to strengthen your building.  Don’t wait…schedule an appointment today!

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(949) 646-0034

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