California just experienced its deadliest and most destructive wildfire, ever. Nearly 14,000 homes, 530 commercial structures and 4,300 other buildings were destroyed in November when the Cal Fire ravaged the Butte County landscape, incinerating entire communities like the town of Paradise in its wake.
The devastation of lives and livelihoods lost is unfathomable. So too is the sheer scope of work needed to clear the charred debris before recovery can ever start.
Federal agencies are overseeing a cleanup of between 6 million and 8 million tons of rubble and toxic debris spread over 150,000 acres — an area described as roughly the size of Chicago.
If all goes as planned, it will be the most expensive cleanup campaign in state history. Rebuilding won’t be able to start until summer.
Wildfires threaten Southern California too. In fact, the Woolsey Fire, also in November, claimed 1,500 structures — prompting officials to call it the most destructive wildfire ever to sweep through Los Angeles County.
Are We Prepared for ‘The Big One?’
Our state is famous for wildfires and earthquakes.
These two destructive natural phenomena are certain to happen. How we guard against them can often make the difference between life and death: between survival or desolation.
Seismologists and statisticians agree that a major earthquake in Southern California has the potential to displace potentially tens of thousands of residents. The Camp Fire has displaced thousands of evacuees. A massive quake, which scientists say is long overdue, could render several times that many homeless.
Unlike wildfires, which tend to strike in rural, sparsely populated areas, earthquakes can strike in the hub of a busy metropolis.
The financial toll from California’s next major earthquake — an estimated $192 billion, according to researchers at the University of Southern California — would be staggering: $113 billion in building damage, $68 billion in business interruption, $11 billion in related costs.
This can have a devastating impact on a society, its housing market and its overarching economic stability. This situation is further complicated when the homes lost reflect a large proportion of a community’s affordable housing stock. People without homes have a harder time reporting for work and that can hamper business activity. The potential impacts on small business, which employs 56.8 million people representing 48 percent of the U.S. workforce, is particularly troublesome when considering that many of these enterprises occupy the very buildings that are at risk of failure during an earthquake.
Why is it Important?
The more we have learned about seismicity, ground motion and engineering, the more we recognize the potential for massive destruction in our communities and — more importantly — how to guard against it.
Clearly, the issue of earthquake resilience impacts everyone.
When it comes to apartment buildings, preparing for the “Big One” is frequently left to individual property owners to decide. Yet the failure to address structural weaknesses can have widespread and devastating effects. Resilience is a cause of the utmost personal, social and economic concern.
Ultimately, seismic retrofits of our vulnerable buildings keep entire societies healthy. And that’s good for everyone.