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California Quake Should Serve As Reminder

Photo courtesy AFP.
by Staff Writers
Champaign IL (SPX) Aug 05, 2008
Robert Olshansky, a professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Illinois, says yesterday's 5.4-magnitude earthquake that shook people up but caused relatively minor damage in Southern California should be considered a public service announcement for vigilance and preparedness.

"Really, this earthquake is nothing ... it's just a garden-variety quake that shakes things off shelves and is a little bit scary to people near the center," said Olshansky, whose teaching and research focuses on land use and environmental planning, with an emphisis on planning for natural hazards. He has written extensively on land-use planning for seismic safety in Los Angeles County.

"The important thing that it does is to gain attention for the huge USGS-led quake scenario that is going on from now until November," Olshansky said.

"It simply reminds people that quakes occur where they are expected to occur, and they occur with no warning. This quake was a nothing, but the next magnitude-7 quake will also occur where it is expected to - such as in southern California - and it, too, will occur with no warning."

When that happens, most experts - including Olshanksy - believe the results could be catastrophic. And the U. of I. researcher has the data to back up his predictions.

In a 2001 study published in the journal Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, Olshansky and graduate-student co-author Yueming Wu used then-new tools to assign a dollar amount to damage associated with a major earthquake in Los Angeles County.

At that time, they determined that the average annual direct cost of earthquakes in L.A. County, based on actual structural and nonstructural damage to buildings alone, would be $388 million.

"If it were not already clear that earthquakes are a significant long-term problem in Los Angeles County, this number certainly makes that point," he said.

The researchers estimated that planned growth of 14.2 percent in the region would result in an increase in annual risk to $449 million, a 15.8 percent increase over the risk to current land uses.

Olshansky's most recent research interests have been directed at post-disaster recovery planning, including efforts that followed a major earthquake in Kobe, Japan, in 1995, and in post-Katrina New Orleans.

This summer (July 2008), he traveled to China with a delegation of earthquake experts from throughout the world to meet with Chinese officials and to survey the damage and recovery efforts following the major earthquake that devastated the Sichuan province in May.

His comments about what the delegation saw there were widely reported in the national and international media, including in the journal Science. His main message in those reports was that recovery following a devastating earthquake is "complicated, messy, ugly and painful" and as the process unfolds, tension and conflict typically arise between professional planners and residents keen on recreating the pre-disaster city.

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Moderate quake hits southwest China, 231 hurt
Beijing (AFP) Aug 2, 2008
A 5.8-magnitude earthquake hit southwest China on Friday, the US Geological Survey said, close to the area devastated by a massive tremor in May that left nearly 70,000 dead.

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