A landmark study commissioned by FEMA and the University of California at Berkeley underscores the possibility of long-term - and widespread - economic losses brought by significant earthquakes. In the just-released study, researchers found that an earthquake on the Hayward Fault in the San Francisco Bay Area could inflict nearly $4 billion in physical destruction and cause economic losses of $1.2 billion.
The U.S. Geological Survey forecasts a 67 percent chance of a 7 or larger earthquake in the area in the next 30 years.
"This study shows how damaging an earthquake can be, not just to the immediate area, but across a state," said FEMA Director James Lee Witt. "The findings show why taking action now, and helping communities and businesses become more disaster resistant is important not just for lives saved but for economic viability of whole states."
U.C. Berkeley has been designated a Disaster Resistant University and is part of FEMA's Project Impact: Building Disaster Resistant Communities, an initiative designed to reduce future disaster risks.
In the report, researchers concluded that the university alone contributes $685 million a year to local and regional economies, and is directly or indirectly responsible for 20,000 jobs. Damage to the university could translate into staggering losses to the immediate area and could impact the viability of high technology economies across the state if an earthquake reduced the number of engineering and other graduates.
"It's important to realize that earthquakes and other natural disasters do much more than simply destroy buildings," said Witt. "They impact a locality in many different ways and for a long time."
The report noted, for example, that the 1994 Northridge earthquake forced the California State University at Northridge to close for a month and reopen with temporary buildings. After the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, Stanford University in Palo Alto shut down a dozen building, some of which remain closed today.
Nicholas Jewel, the UC Berkeley's vice provost, said the university is already a leader in campus seismic safety improvements, but the report is helping to reinforce the existing commitment. The university launched a $1 billion safety improvement effort in 1997 and is developing a business resumption plan to allow the university to function despite a major quake. "We're much better prepared than two and a half years ago and we'll be substantially better off in another two and a half years," said Jewel. "Each year we're getting safer and safer. That's an important message."