San Andreas earthquake film: what is fact and what is fiction? Is it an ironic prediction of the “big one”?

San Andreas earthquake film: what is fact and what is fiction? Drop, cover, and hold on (PSA)

Hollywood’s latest earthquake epic is a thrilling blend of fact and fiction

Alicia Chang

EQ3

A tsunami bears down on San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge in San Andreas. In reality, an earthquake on land would not cause a tsunami.

The San Andreas Fault awakens, unleashing back-to-back jolts that leave a trail of destruction from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Skyscrapers crumble. Fires erupt. The letters of the Hollywood sign topple. Tsunami waves swamp the Golden Gate Bridge.

Hollywood’s favourite geological bad guy is back in San Andreas, a fantastical look at one of the world’s real seismic threats.

The San Andreas has long been considered one of the most dangerous earthquake faults because of its length. At nearly 1,280km long, it cuts through California like a scar and is responsible for some of the largest shakers in state history.

In the film, directed by Brad Peyton, a previously unknown fault near the Hoover Dam in Nevada ruptures and jiggles the San Andreas. Southern California is rocked by a powerful magnitude-9.1 quake followed by an even stronger magnitude-9.6 event in Northern California.

US Geological Survey (USGS) seismologist Susan Hough, who attended an advance screening of the film, says the San Andreas will indeed break again, and without warning. “We are at some point going to face a big earthquake,” she says.

The San Andreas is notorious for producing big ones, but a magnitude-9 or larger is virtually impossible because the fault is not long or deep enough, Hough says.

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Dwayne Johnson in a scene from San Andreas.

The most powerful earthquakes in recorded history have struck along offshore subduction zones where one massive tectonic plate dives beneath another. The 1960 magnitude-9.5 quake off Chile is the current world record holder.

The San Andreas has revealed its awesome power before. In 1906, a magnitude 7.8 reduced parts of San Francisco to fiery rubble. Nearly five decades earlier, a similar-sized quake rattled the southern end of the fault.

In 2008, the USGS led a team of 300 experts that wrote a script detailing what would happen if a magnitude 7.8 hit the southern San Andreas. They wanted to create a science-based crisis scenario that can be used for preparedness drills.

The lesson: it doesn’t take a magnitude 9 or greater to wreak havoc. Researchers calculated a magnitude 7.8 would cause 1,800 deaths and 50,000 injuries. Hundreds of old brick buildings and concrete structures, and a few high-rise steel buildings would collapse.

Computer models show the San Andreas is capable of producing a magnitude-8.3 quake, but anything larger is dubious.

In the film, seismologist Lawrence Hayes (played by Paul Giamatti) notices spikes in “magnetic pulses” that light up California like a Christmas tree, heralding a monster quake.

Despite a century of research, earthquake prediction remains elusive. Scientists can’t predict when a jolt is coming and are generally pessimistic about ever having that ability. Every warning sign scrutinised – animal behaviour, weather patterns, electromagnetic signals, atmospheric observations, levels of radon gas in soil or groundwater – has failed.

“We wish it were as simple as the movie portrays. It isn’t. Researchers have scoured every imaginable signal trying to find reliable precursors, but nothing has panned out,” Hough says.

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The San Andreas Fault runs like a 1,280km scar through California.

The latest focus has been on creating early warning systems that give residents and businesses a few seconds’ heads up after a quake hits, but before strong shaking is felt.

Japan has the most advanced seismic alert system in the world while the US is testing a prototype.

Unlike in the film, the San Andreas can’t spawn tsunamis. Most tsunamis are triggered by underwater quakes, but they can also be caused by landslides, volcanoes and even meteor impacts.

It doesn’t take a magnitude 9 or greater to wreak havoc. US researchers calculated a magnitude 7.8 would cause 1,800 deaths and 50,000 injuries
Giant tsunami waves are formed when the earth’s crust violently shifts, displacing huge amounts of seawater. The larger the magnitude, the more these waves can race across the ocean without losing energy.

The San Andreas is a strike-slip fault, in which opposing blocks of rocks slide past each other horizontally. A big San Andreas quake can spark fires and other mayhem, but it can’t displace water and flood San Francisco.

Hough says the movie has got one aspect right: the tide suddenly ebbing out signals a tsunami is coming. More than 80 – mostly small – tsunamis have been observed along California’s coast in the past, triggered mainly by faraway quakes.

In the film, the scientist warns that shaking can be felt on the East Coast. But even the largest possible San Andreas quake won’t rattle the East Coast (sorry New York). While seismic waves from great quakes can make the earth reverberate like a bell, the ringing can only be detected by sensitive instruments because it’s so low.

Historical accounts show shaking from the 1906 San Andreas quake was barely felt in western Nevada and southern Oregon, Hough says.

When the ground starts to shake, the seismologist makes the ideal public service announcement (PSA): “Drop, cover and hold on.”

DCH
Watch “Drop, cover, and hold on immediately” video – it can save your life. Don’t run out: http://www.shakeout.org/dropcoverholdon/

Since 2008, millions of people in California and elsewhere have participated in yearly disaster drills in which they practise diving under a table and learn other preparedness tips. If you’re outdoors when the ground moves, experts recommend bracing against a wall, similar to what search-and-rescue helicopter pilot Ray Gaines, played by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, tells scared survivors in the movie.

“Having Paul Giamatti shouting, ‘drop, cover and hold on!’ and The Rock telling people to crouch against a wall if they can is one heck of a PSA,” Hough says.

Associated Press

San Andreas is out now

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Rockin’ and rollin’in California

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 June, 2015, 11:47pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 June, 2015, 11:47pm

#DropCoverandHoldOn   #BraceAgainstAWallEarthquake   #EarthquakeDrill   #PSA
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Robert’s View

Is San Andreas film an ironic prediction of the “big one” coming?

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Published by

Robert Chaen

Global CEO-Founder of ChangeU and Movsha Movers & Shakers, Hero-CEO Whisperer, Writer, The #1 Alpha Change Expert, Father of Asian FireWalking Robert Chaen is an International Keynote Speaker, writer, researcher, and corp games designer. He is famously known to be the “Hero-CEO Whisperer”, 1-on1 coaching with many CEOs and Celebrities for corporate strategies, staff & office political issues, personal branding, and even public figure OSHA safety drilling called Drager Defense. He has transformed CEOs and managers in Coca-Cola China, TVB Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Airport Services, VADS, TM, Public Bank, Auditor General's Office Maldives, etc. He is the prolific creator and online Author of innovative management tools such as DragonCEO, Diamond Leader, Papillon Personal Effectiveness, OSHA Drager Defense, KPI Bank, etc. He is also the Founder of Movsha, an international networking with monthly mingles with MOVers & SHAkers, Angels, Entrepreneurs, CEOs, Celebrities, HR-PR-CSR, HODs, and the Most Influential IDEA people. ​Chaen is widely considered as one of the top International Platform Keynote Speakers for Resorts World Genting Senior Management Conference (Manila), 7-Eleven HK, Samsung, Coca-Cola China Mini-MBA @Tsing Hua University, Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong Jockey Club, The Story Conference where he interviewed Datuk Kamarudin (Chairman of AirAsia) and Siti Nurhaliza. He has been widely featured in TVB, AWSJ, CNBC, SCMP, The Star, and Sin Chew. As “The Father of Asian FireWalking”, he coached TVB celebrities (Ekin Cheng Yee-Kin) to walk on 650°C fire; and raised HK$68M in the world’s 1st and only live TV Charity FireWalk (TVB Tung Wah Charity Show), before Tony Robbins even came to Asia. If Robert can get you to walk on 650⁰C fire, he can inspire you to be THE BEST. He champions CN-HK-EU-US Tycoons to be philanthropic, and to be angel investors to support the next generation of Jack Mas, Steve Jobs, Richard Bransons, Steven Spielbergs, or Barrack Obamas. With some slick motivational speakers with fake doctorates out there, graduates often describe Robert to be "the most credible, empowering, truthful Coach" who believe in his graduates to believe in themselves. ​However, clients have described Robert as "The #1 Cool Badass Alpha Change Expert". He has the coolest first class stature, rapport and trust from clients. He will not hesitate to tell the badass truth ever so gently because clients are paying him big bucks to reveal the truth, find solutions, persuade the hostile HODs, and align cross-teams within the organization. Originally based in Hong Kong for 20+ years, he had worked with top Branding/Ad agencies at J Walter Thompson and Leo Burnett, and was a certified FranklinCovey (7 Habits) in USA, and NLP MasterCoach (USA). His warmth is known to soften the most hardened, resistant sceptics. He will inspire your team to Go for Top 1, or to be a Dragon CEO. With boundless energies, Robert owns 15+ successful business Joint-Ventures, and created unique products under his global VC network called Chaen's Angels VC. He is deeply passionate about ChangeUTH Youth CSR, Science-Based Medicine (vs. quackery), short films and Reality TV. Touched by a personal tragedy through the loss of his HK-born Portuguese wife, co-coach and business partner, Brenda José of 18 years, Robert explores the many ways in which the spirit world is communicating with the living with real scientific studies and evidence. He gives inspiring conferences on The Secret Afterlife.

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