Last night I attended a Public Series lecture at the USGS titled “Science for a Dangerous Planet.”  David Applegate, Senior Science Advisor for Earthquake and Geologic Hazards at the USGS, gave the talk.  While I had hoped he would discuss a broad set of geologic hazards, he focused mainly on the recent earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, and Mexico, and tied them into what actions we can take as a result of those events.

The first step is infrastructure.  Because we can’t predict earthquakes, our best line of defense is to respond appropriately.  That includes preventive measures like stricter building codes.  In Haiti, nothing was built to withstand an earthquake.  As a result, the devastation was incredible and loss of life reached at least 220,000.  This isn’t the first time an earthquake has happened near Port-Au-Prince, however.  In the late 1700’s the city had to be rebuilt twice.  At that time, building codes were no where near our present day specifications.  There appeared to be no reason to build anything to withstand intense shaking either, as the seismic activity in that area had been relatively quiet since 1770.  Economics probably factored into the equation as well.

Nearly a month after the earthquakes in Haiti, an 8.8 magnitude earthquake occurred offshore Maule, Chile, an order of magnitude less than the first one that struck Haiti.  The devastation in Chile, however, was nominal in comparison to that in Haiti.  The Huffington Post has a good article that covers the reasons why.

Perhaps of more importance to the United States is the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that hit Baja, Mexico on Sunday, April 4, 2010.  The stress released from that earthquake creates tension elsewhere in the fault.  David Applegate addressed the likelihood of an earthquake in California as a result of the Baja earthquake.  True to his prediction, a 5.4 magnitude earthquake hit southern California at 4:53 pm yesterday, just two hours before Dr. Applegate’s lecture.  Perhaps he did not have time to factor that into this talk.

Prior to all this, a campaign called the Shakedown was undertaken in California to educate people about earthquake preparedness.  That is, according to David Applegate, the best defense.  Rather than concentrate on predicting earthquakes, he suggests being able to react appropriately to earthquakes.  Current social media networks are aiding the USGS in getting the word out when an earthquake does occur.  Twitter, for example, has been instrumental in identifying where people are feeling the earthquake on the ground.  The USGS can track tweets to see where, when, and what people felt.  Along with the seismic data they compile, they can then inform the various response agencies, transportation departments, media outlets, and utility companies as to the appropriate measures needed. 

If you want to see what you can do to be prepared for an earthquake you can visit the USGS earthquake hazards website at www.earthquake.usgs.gov for more information.  You may also want to check out their instructions on what to have on hand. 

Here are my words of caution, though: They only recommend 1 gallon of water per person for three days.  In the case of the Big One, it’s plausible that people can be without clean drinking water for at least a month.  So how is a 3-day supply going to cut it?  I don’t think it will.  With that in mind, if I lived in an earthquake prone area, I might consider increasing the amount of water I have on hand for emergencies. 

Perhaps that’s sage advice for any type of national emergency or natural disaster.  That, and a pantry full of food that will last you for more than three days.  So, for now, and perhaps until the threat of something catastrophic happening disappears (which is never), I’ll let my husband’s grocery shopping addiction slide, as we have more than adequately stocked our house with provisions.  Not that we live in an earthquake prone region.   And not that our brush with a national emergency hindered us for too long either.

Still, more than a month’s supply of food, though, is a bit much.  Don’t you agree, honey?

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We Are to Blame

July 8, 2010

If corporations claim they are trying to  maximize profits for shareholders then we are to blame for 1) the banking crisis, 2) the Massey mine explosion in WV, and 3) the Gulf oil spill. 

That being said, people run corporations.  People make decisions.  Corporations do not.  People are putting money before safety, money before the environment, money before human health.

Furthermore, people are choosing to work in the coal mines and for the oil companies because the money is good.  And, if you say, the reason we mine for coal and drill for oil is because there is demand for it, that people do these things based on our demand for energy, then you clearly don’t know the power of the word no.

No one is forcing them to put profit before safety or to work in risky careers.  People can say no and we will find a way to adapt.  It is greed on all our parts that feeds this vicious cycle.

I find the current bitching by the inhabitants of the affected Gulf Coast — and almost every American — nearly intolerable.  They want it both ways.  They want to be able to fish if they are fisherman and drill if they are working in the oil industry and they don’t want to lose money doing it or assume risk in their endeavors.  They aren’t looking past their noses.  Each person is blaming the government, but I don’t think the government can be solely responsible for their woes.

With respect to the oil spill, the lack of oversight and regulation is clearly an issue.  The Minerals Management Service (MMS) obviously did not do its job, but I also don’t think they were given the power to do their job effectively due to the emphasis on deregulation.  Even if they had tried to fine BP, the oil company would’ve fought back against the fine using lawyers because fighting the citation is cheaper than fixing the problem.  The same happened with Massey.  It was cheaper for them to fight the citations than it was for them to upgrade their technology so they could operate more safely.

If we accept that we are greedy, that we are driven by base human desires and needs, then we will either have the ability to change our outcome.  We can take responsibility for our choices.  You assume risk in choosing profit over safety or a dangerous job over a lesser paying job.  If you don’t like the terms of that risk, do something about it.  Blaming others will not change anything.  Action will.  If enough people stand up and take action, change can happen. 

It requires you to work, though.  It requires you to have faith in something greater.  It requires that you to face fears.  That, I believe, is something humans are terrible at doing.  We are more comfortable with the same-o, same-o.  We’d rather just complain about it and point our fingers at how we were wronged, as if we came into this world with an inherent right to a silver platter and a staff of hundreds to serve us.  We don’t want to hear that this is our lot, that this is as good as it gets.  We’ve bought into the idea that we can always have more, that we have a right to more.  I’m pretty sure that when we came into this world that wasn’t part of the agreement, though.

I am a spoiled American.  Admitting that I am is the first step toward changing my life so that I can live in more peace and with greater purpose.  It will be hard to change my ways and my beliefs, to accept that I might never make it to that next economic level, but I believe that for my children’s sake and for the sake of future generations that I must start down this path, that I must curb my whining and blaming, that I must take responsibility for my actions and for my human existence.

That is the only way change will occur.  Truthfully, maybe the only change that will occur is my outlook.  And that’s okay.  That kind of change has to be enough, too.

Come On, Friday!

July 2, 2010

I have become the kind of person that counts down until the weekend.  Each day I count the hours left until I can leave.  That’s not a good sign, is it?

There is someone who works here who has license plates that read “C’mon Fri,” which I always find a bit pathetic when I see.  I mean, this person is clearly dissatisfied in his job and only clocking hours until he can go home.  Or, she.  Either way, that’s not a way to live one’s life, is it?

And now I’ve become that person.  I just sit here with nothing to do these days, waiting until someone needs me.  I can’t leave because I work hourly despite the fact that I have a master’s degree in my field.  I can’t work from home either.  Other people can, but I haven’t achieved that status level yet. 

Nor do I expect to at the rate things are going here. 

To top it off, I’m pregnant with our third child so I tire more easily these days.  I’m not as tired as I was during the 1st trimester, but I am definitely dragging.  My 250 mg of caffeine I’m allowed wouldn’t do anything to energize me even if I took advantage of it.  Somehow caffeine just feels gross to me.  Which is a good thing and probably better for the baby.  Still, how I long for a good cup of coffee!

Only two hours left until I can go home.  Or, rather pick up my girls from summer camp and then go home.

Tick, tick, tick.

What’s pathetic is that I don’t feel like doing anything but complaining about it.  I can’t really go looking for another job right now.  Who’d hire me?  Also, I don’t know what I want to do.  The jobs in my field would require extensive travel, and that’s something I’m not willing to do at this point in my career. 

I want to just quit, but I find myself afraid of quitting.  For one, there’s still a chance I could get a federal job.  Not that the federal job will pay enough for me to afford to put all three of my kids in some kind of after school or day care. 

And this isn’t really material anybody wants to read anyhow.  It’s not uplifting in any way whatsoever.  Nor is it informative.  But I still need to vent about it.  Probably because I’m narcissistic like everyone else in my generation. 

Why do I sit here waiting for a hand out?  Why do I expect great things to happen to me when I’m clearly not doing anything great with myself?  Either I should get motivated and inspired (which I’m not) or accept that I’m mediocre and that’s okay.

Mediocre it is.  Okay, I’m not.  But I’ll try to be.  At least for the next two hours.