California and the Phillippines - Hazard Hotspots and Human Management of Risks

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Geofile 657: Hazard Hotspots

  • What hazards do they suffer from and why?
  • What is being done to reduce the impacts?
  • On balance have they been successful in managing the risk
  • Are some hazards more difficult than others to manage?

Background California

  • The state of California has approx. 40 million people and has a very strong economy.
  • 25 Californian counties have per capita incomes of US$ 65,000 per annum – so it is one of the world’s wealthiest places, so this means that a disaster may comprise high financial losses.
  • It is home to the megacities of Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.
  • Only sophisticated management prevents California from becoming a disaster zone (in terms of mortality).
  • Parts of the population are vulnerable - around 20% of the residents in Los Angeles live below the official poverty line. California also has 3.5 million people who live in hazardous locations.  

Background Philippines

  • The Philippines is a Southeast Asian country in the Western Pacific, comprising more than 7,000 islands. 
  • The Philippines consists of over 7000 islands, of which only about 2000 are inhabited. The main islands include Luzon, Mindanao, Palawan and Panay. Only about 500 of the islands are larger than 1 sq km, and about 2500 islands are not even named.
  • The Philippines has one of the most recent volcanoes, including Pinatubo. Indeed, the Philippines, an arc of islands found at the edge of an ocean, are beset by a variety of environmental hazards, including cyclones, landslides, tsunami, earthquakes and volcanoes. However, without volcanic activity the Philippines would not exist: they comprise the remains of previous eruptions.
  • Typhoons have a particular impact on the densely populated island of Luzon. For example, during a single week in 1989 the Philippines was hit by typhoons Angela and Dan, resulting in 159 deaths and almost 500,000 people were made homeless. Disasters on this scale occurred annually throughout the 1980s, and the potential for such disasters is increasing. Human activity is implicated in the rising number of hazardous events. For example, the disastrous floods and landslides of November 1991, though triggered by intense rainstorms (typhoons), have been blamed primarily on logging on hill slopes.

Hazard 1: Earthquake: California

One of the hazard California suffers from is earthquakes. They suffer from this because California lies on a conservative plate boundary. As a result, two plates (pacific and north American plate) slide in the same direction but at different speed as a result the plates sometimes get stuck and an earthquake is the result of the release of the built up pressure. The San Andreas fault is the origin of earthquakes in the California state. Some examples of past earthquakes include the Loma Prieta earthquake as well as the Northridge earthquake of 1994 which was a 6.7 magnitude earthquake (more details on Geofile).


Before the event:

A lot has been done in order to reduce the risk of the earthquake and make people feel safe living in this state.

1. Firstly, government regulations ensure that every building constructed must be earthquake proof, this means that even though this event occurs, people are save in their homes.

  • Base Isolation: This is when structures are built such that during an earthquake the base of the building moves with the ground however the building itself does not move. As a result it does not lead to structural failure.

  • Cross Bracing: This is when steel supports are put in place diagonally. This gives it more strength as a result it does not fail during an earthquake.

Such techniques are now used in most buildings including San Franciso’s One Rincon Hill building.

2. More than $80 million has been spent on early warning systems. This system has been linked to the monitoring station, this means that if an earthquake tremors are felt an automatic system is triggered in order to alert everyone in the state of California. This is further implemented by the use of social media like AlertSF.

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3. Education : All schools and workplaces need to make sure that they students or employees have undergone an earthquake training so they know how to protect themselves during an earthquake. Here things like “Duck, Cover, Hold” are taught so people remember what to do.

4. Extensive research takes place in California, in this subject where they find new ways in order to predict earthquakes more accurately.

5. Emergency procedures have been also put in place. For example Action plan on what will happen in certain scenarios. Also emergency authorities like hospitals have been informed ...

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