The question is not if but when southern California will be hit by a major earthquake - one so damaging that it will permanently change lives and livelihoods in the region. How severe the changes will be depends on the actions that individuals, schools, businesses, organizations, communities, and governments take to get ready. To help prepare for this event, scientists of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have changed the way that earthquake scenarios are done, uniting a multidisciplinary team that spans an unprecedented number of specialties. The team includes the California Geological Survey, Southern California Earthquake Center, and nearly 200 other partners in government, academia, emergency response, and industry, working to understand the long-term impacts of an enormous earthquake on the complicated social and economic interactions that sustain southern California society. This project, the ShakeOut Scenario, has applied the best current scientific understanding to identify what can be done now to avoid an earthquake catastrophe. More information on the science behind this project will be available in The ShakeOut Scenario (USGS Open-File Report 2008-1150; http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2008/1150/).
The 'what if?' earthquake modeled in the ShakeOut Scenario is a magnitude 7.8 on the southern San Andreas Fault. Geologists selected the details of this hypothetical earthquake by considering the amount of stored strain on that part of the fault with the greatest risk of imminent rupture. From this, seismologists and computer scientists modeled the ground shaking that would occur in this earthquake. Engineers and other professionals used the shaking to produce a realistic picture of this earthquake's damage to buildings, roads, pipelines, and other infrastructure. From these damages, social scientists projected casualties, emergency response, and the impact of the scenario earthquake on southern California's economy and society. The earthquake, its damages, and resulting losses are one realistic outcome, deliberately not a worst-case scenario, rather one worth preparing for and mitigating against.
Decades of improving the life-safety requirements in building codes have greatly reduced the risk of death in earthquakes, yet southern California's economic and social systems are still vulnerable to large-scale disruptions. Because of this, the ShakeOut Scenario earthquake would dramatically alter the nature of the southern California community. Fortunately, steps can be taken now that can change that outcome and repay any costs many times over. The ShakeOut Scenario is the first public product of the USGS Multi-Hazards Demonstration Project, created to show how hazards science can increase a community's resiliency to natural disasters through improved planning, mitigation, and response.