Chile is Ready for Coastal Earthquake Hazards, Are We?

Posted by guest bloggers: Rob Dumouchel, Monique Gil, Evan Johnson, and Austin Theriault from EMP 462: Coastal and Marine Planning

Ships are seen in the street after an earthquake hit areas of central Chile, in Coquimbo city, north of Santiago, Chile, September 17, 2015. REUTERS/Mauricio Ubilla

Ships are seen in the street after an earthquake hit areas of central Chile, in Coquimbo city, north of Santiago, Chile, September 17, 2015. REUTERS/Mauricio Ubilla

Chile is no stranger to earthquakes, on September 16th Chileans experienced their third quake over magnitude 8 since 2010. The quake was paired with a tsunami which hit the Chilean coast (and triggered warnings along large portions of the California coast as well) resulting in a remarkably low death toll, and minimal damage to property. How did the coastal communities of Chile manage to absorb the consequences of these hazards so well?

The New York Times, reporting on the event (in  an article titled “Why Chile’s Latest Big Earthquake Has a Smaller Death Toll”) found that while Chile’s success was in part geographic and geologic luck, preparation and planning for resiliency were substantial factors in reducing the magnitude of the disaster. Chile learned from past experiences (such as the 1960 Valdivia earthquake) the importance of preemptive measures (such as building codes) and has since implemented standards (similar to what we have in California) that today make the country much better prepared for disaster events, such as the earthquake and tsunami experienced last week. Chile also prepares for disasters by practicing earthquake drills with coastal communities and improving emergency response and warning systems. Chileans are alerted quickly and know exactly how to respond when an earthquake or tsunami strikes.

As Coastal & Marine Planning students, we wonder how Humboldt County would hold up to large seismic activity and an accompanying tsunami. We need to plan for  numerous hazards that would be triggered by a magnitude 8+ earthquake, beyond the event itself. For example, a tsunami wave is a major concern for the coastal towns Manila and Samoa. Aldaron Laird has identified levee breaches that are a major concern all along the coast of Humboldt Bay. Landslides along the 3 roadways into the county could effectively cut us off from the rest of the state, making it difficult to evacuate or have outside help sent in. Various forms of infrastructure, including wastewater processing facilities, power generation facilities, hospitals, water treatment plants, a fuel depot and a decommissioned nuclear power plant would potentially be inundated and destroyed.

Although no one knows when the next big earthquake will hit Humboldt County, there are plans in place which have been developed by the County’s Office of Emergency Management to help us get through future natural disasters. You can view Humboldt’s Emergency Operations Plan here, or check out the various contingency plans for different events here and decide for yourself – are we ready?

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