Experts to talk quake predictions, social media in disasters

Recognition event to host speakers on the latest developments

This map shows the active faults in the South Bay region. The red lines denote faults that have been active since 1776 and orange in the past 11,000 years. Courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey.

The ground's brief 4.4-magnitude jolt on Jan. 4 was a reminder that Bay Area residents are sitting on top of a potential disaster.

Coincidentally, and perhaps just in time, on Jan. 18 at 6:30 p.m., three experts will discuss the latest science and thinking on earthquakes, social media in a disaster and disaster response.

The event, "Calamities Happen: What You Need to Know," is part of the Palo Alto/Stanford Citizen Corps Council's annual recognition event at Palo Alto City Council Chambers, 250 Hamilton Ave., which will honor three individuals and a federal disaster-assistance team for their work on emergency preparedness, response or recovery. This year's recipients will be residents Susanne Jul, for creative crisis leadership; Ce Ci Kettendorf, block-preparedness coordinator; John Mori, a member of the Community Emergency Response Team; and the U.S. Health and Human Services Disaster Medical Assistance Team, CA-6.

Newly inducted Palo Alto Mayor Liz Kniss will kick off the event, followed by remarks from experts: Tom Brocher, a research geophysicist and former director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Earthquake Science Center; Jeff L. Norris; emergency services coordinator with the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, Office of Emergency Services; and Brandon Bond, administrative director of the Office of Emergency Management at Stanford Health Care. Bond will discuss his role in disaster response and the many disasters to which he has been deployed, such as Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, the 7.0-magnitude earthquake in Haiti, Hurricane Katrina and Texas following Hurricane Harvey.

Brocher will discuss the current forecast for Bay Area earthquakes in the next 30 years, the recent and potential activity on the Hayward Fault and the coming rollout of the earthquake early-warning system, ShakeAlert, which is being developed by USGS and state and university agencies for the West Coast and Pacific Northwest regions.

There have been some changes to earthquake predictions, he said during a phone interview this week. "The prediction is a little higher than before," he said. Previous forecasts were for a 63 percent probability in the next 30 years, with about a 33 percent chance of a major quake originating on the Hayward Fault and 22 percent on the San Andreas Fault.

"The current forecast for the next 30 years is a 72 percent likelihood, or a 3-out-of-4 chance of a magnitude 6.7 or larger earthquake in the Bay Area. That would be comparable to the Loma Prieta earthquake."

But besides these two notorious fault lines, many other smaller faults thread the area that are capable of producing a 6.0-magnitude quake. "Locally they could be very damaging to the town nearby," he said.

Although the San Andreas is the fault of immediate concern to Palo Alto, a large quake on the Hayward Fault could also affect the city. A large Hayward Fault quake could damage buildings and infrastructure that cross the fault, such as water mains and electrical and gas lines, which service Palo Alto, he said.

On Oct. 21 1868, the Hayward Fault unleashed a 6.8-magnitude shaker that damaged buildings in San Francisco. The event was at that time called the Great San Francisco Earthquake, he said.

A study of major earthquakes looking at a span of 2,000 years found a 150- to 160-year variation in spacing on the Hayward Fault. The 150th anniversary of that quake is this year, so we are at that threshold now, he said.

Technology that didn't exist 150 years ago would now likely play an important role in earthquake prediction and in its aftermath. The USGS plans to roll out a prototype of early-warning system ShakeAlert this year, and the Bay Area would likely be included in that first test, he said.

Jeff Norris, San Mateo County Emergency Services coordinator, said social media will play an important role in a quake or major disaster, offering additional ways to disseminate information beyond law enforcement and mainstream media.

"Social media is a great way to rapidly speed information to a community," he said, noting that local police and the California Highway Patrol regularly use platforms such as Nixle and Twitter to inform the public about both critical and nonemergency situations such as road closures.

But the lightning-fast dispersal of information can also have a downside. Whether unintentional or malicious, rumors can create harm in a community, he said. Law enforcement, emergency personnel and the media now have a greater obligation to locate, validate or discredit rumors by monitoring social media, he said.

He gave some examples. A Twitter user might tweet that the BART train system is down after mistakenly seeing many people gathered on a platform. BART's automated alert system sometimes also creates confusion. If one train is delayed, BART sends out an automated message about that train being late, but then it will send out separate messages about every other train that is late because of that train, he said. Such messaging floods can also dilute the impact of the messages and turn off recipients.

"There are 15 different social media platforms, from Periscope to Twitter, it can be information overload. It becomes a question of where do you go to find (information)?" he said.

But there's also a shift in public thinking, he said. First responders, the media and others disseminating critical information must also consider the way social media has infiltrated public mindsets.

After a commuter train derailed in southern California, a fire captain tried to evacuate the able-bodied passengers so that paramedics could reach those who were seriously injured, the captain recounted at a lecture Norris attended.

"If you can get up, walk and come to me," the captain had said. When people did not exit, he stuck his head inside the train car to find out what was going on.

"People were sitting and tapping on their keypads and phones. He was befuddled," Norris said.

The captain then changed his message: "If you are on social media tweeting about the train wreck, come to me." And the passengers got up and left the train.

Norris explained that people weren't thinking about whether they were safe and how to get out. The most important mindset was they were OK and they needed to tell someone, he said.

Despite social media, Norris said the mainstream news -- particularly organizations with in-depth local coverage -- still play the most important communications role in a disaster by providing vetted, factual information.

"Drive-time radio still has the greatest reach to the public," he said.


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 10, 2018 at 10:37 pm

It seems to me from recent local "situations" if not "emergencies" that the go to place for people in Palo Alto is now From power outages to other local issues such as Ross Road and schools renaming, this is the website where we turn to find out information. I think that if the recent earthquake had occurred during the day, or the recent flooding of Oregon had occurred during the morning commute, that we would need a local place for residents to go to find information as quickly as possible. The fact that a website needs to be manned by a City official has been proven to be unnecessary as someone will automatically start a thread where people can share their information.

It used to be the case that PAW Town Square was the go to place. This is no longer the case.

Twitter feeds from PAPD, PAFD, Utilities, etc. is useful. Also the Facebook pages for the same. These agencies also post on The emergency alert on our phones has been overused and many people have now disabled the alerts due to non relevant alerts.

Social media is indeed a useful tool and getting an official or semi official central site for sharing useful information in an emergency seems to make a lot of sense. Otherwise, we will probably find one on our own.

3 people like this
Posted by Ellie
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 11, 2018 at 10:53 am

So...what happens when there's no power like in the Loma Prieta Earthquake? The power was off for several hours. Many people turned on their car radios to find out what was happening. If "the big one" knocks out power sources, especially for cell phone towers, what will we do? Rely on our car radios again?

4 people like this
Posted by ReallyLiveHere
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 11, 2018 at 11:58 am

ReallyLiveHere is a registered user.

@Ellie You plan ahead, and have a designated meeting place for your family to get back together.

Keep a battery-operated radio with your emergency supplies.

If you want to be sophisticated, keep goTenna mesh units plugged in and set up as relay stations at your home and work. This will likely enable you to stay in touch for a few hours after the power goes out.

4 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 11, 2018 at 6:23 pm

This is a subject that needs to be covered and re-freshed periodically, so thank you for the article here. Warnings, communication methods, preparation are all important topics, in my opinion.
Meanwhile, it’s also helpful to include the current recommendation for several-day self-sufficiency (how much water to have stored, reminder to check and maintain a flashlight, consider some emergency items to keep in your car, etc.) I’m an interested member of the public, and I try to remind other people about this preparation. The region is transitory, with many young adults moving to SF. from anywhere, and I find (in a small sample) little awareness of this topic.... I appreciate it when government officials and members of the news media recommend that individuals prepare (and how they should do this). The community will be in better shape if more people are prepared if/when we experience a large quake.

2 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 13, 2018 at 9:51 am

Thanks Sue for a well written article.
Hope this inspires folks to think about this issue, be prepared, and of course, come to the event on Jan 18th at 7 PM at City Hall.

1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 13, 2018 at 11:23 am

What were Disaster Preparedness people in Hawaii thinking for a few minutes this morning?

1 person likes this
Posted by Sophie
a resident of another community
on Jan 14, 2018 at 11:22 pm

@musical. I was in Maui when the alert came through my iPhone. Although the hotel receptionist told me to ignore the message when I called them, because they receive similar alert quite often recently, a couple minutes later, hotel announced the emergency through broadcast system, and urged all guests to go to conference room, ball room on ground floor, and do not stay outside, pool, and guest rooms. We were panicked and rushed to designated room with as many valuables as possible I could grab, in addition to water, iPhone and a coat to cover my nightgown. It took 20 minutes the hotel to announce ALL CLEAR, however, I realized I was not prepared for such emergency situation. If there are classes or seminar related to emergency preparedness, I definitely will attend.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 15, 2018 at 9:38 am

@Sophie, same in Japan a week earlier - Web Link - false earthquake warning.

Should be an interesting discussion on January 18.

3 people like this
Posted by annette
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 18, 2018 at 10:20 am

I wanted to comment on the discussion about Hawaii. We can learn from their mistakes. There is no question that a comprehensive early warning system is needed for Palo Alto. Stanford has installed sirens for this purpose. Many other states as well as most European countries are ahead of us.

Although the event tonight will not talk about the comprehensive approach, the discussion on ShakeAlert and the use of social media should prove to be informative and interesting,

See you there.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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