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Foreign quake study provides clues for Southern California

April 8, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A new study by the American Red Cross and United States Geological Survey of recent earthquakes can teach Los Angeles valuable lessons on earthquake preparedness.

The study included this year's 6.3-magnitude earthquake in New Zealand and the magnitude 8.8 quake in Chile in 2010.

Dr. Lucy Jones of USGS says both geologists and the Red Cross are mining disaster scenes for information to aid in preparedness.

The quake in Christchurch rocked structures that were under similar building codes to Los Angeles.

"Where did they fail? There were two 1980s buildings that completely collapsed," Jones said. "We need to understand what happened in New Zealand because it's the closest analogue for Los Angeles."

A joint report released in Los Angeles City Hall focused on Chile's earthquake, which had an impact on 12 million people.

But instead of thousands of deaths, there were just over 500. One reason is building codes. Chilean law mandates that the builder is liable for losses for inadequate construction for the first 10 years after a structure is built.

"Many structural engineers cited this law as the reason they their buildings were built beyond the minimum," Jones said. "They did more than the code required."

Jones says homes in Los Angeles could be safer. That's because Building codes are not retroactive.

Homes are typically only as sound as the building requirements at the time it was constructed.

Today, the base requirement is to keep inhabitants from dying in a collapse.

Another lesson that can be taken from Japan and Chile is to have a family survival plan and start collaborating with neighbors on a plan of action.

"That's where our earthquake preparedness should be going on because those are the people that you'll turn to when the event happens," Jones said.