Earthquake apps and post-quake observations

Seems like disaster is in the air every October. This year the catastrophe is wildfire in the North Bay, bringing up memories of our own turn in the line of fire this very week in 1991.

Yesterday the local paper published an article by Seung Lee that explicitly linked the October fires of 2017 to the Oakland Earthquake of 20XX, not here yet but sure to come.

Lee pointed to some promising smartphone apps that could save us lots of anguish and maybe even lives. Of course, MyShake came first. It’s an Android app (IOS version pending) that turns your phone into a crude but effective, networked seismograph-plus-earthquake-alarm. I’m watching MyShake closely and will let you know when iPhones can participate.

Lee mentioned several apps to help with communications, offering flexibility in the face of degraded cell service and bringing more superpowers to your smartphone. They include Zello, which turns phones into crude but effective walkie-talkies; FireChat, which enables phones to network without internet or cell service by using peer-to-peer technology; and NextRadio, which turns last-generation phones into FM radios. Needless to say, a portable charger belongs in your purse and go-bag — fully charged.

But I’m also writing to point out some possibilities for us to help science after a large East Bay earthquake, once you’ve taken care of yourself and those nearby. Lots of geologists will show up, doing different things. Some will be inspecting damage as consultants. Some will be there doing science on behalf of state and federal agencies. Professors will come with their students, teaching them real-life lessons in disaster response and collaboration with other scientists. You can give them a hand during the aftermath. And some more things you can do of your own initiative.

If you see ruptures in the ground, collect some data. Measure their offsets, photograph them with date and time stamps, and insert objects for scale like a coin or lens cover or your own hand. Do these things quickly before city crews come in to fix the damage. Document offsets in buildings, too. Repeat these observations as the days go on, because afterslip — continuing fault motion once the shaking is over — is a new and lively topic among earthquake scientists.

Ambitious amateurs can practice the structure-from-motion (SfM) technique, by which a series of photos taken from all sides can be turned into accurate three-dimensional models. This yielded dramatically good images after the 2014 Napa earthquake. If I were a maker type, I’d do this. Any practitioners out there?

Monitor your local streams. As earthquakes rattle the ground, they shake down the material of the hills as surely as you’d shake down a jar of coffee beans. When this happens, groundwater gets pushed aside, and a sudden rush of water fills the streams for a while. The Napa earthquake of 24 August 2014 did this all over the North Bay, which I posted about at the time, and Oakland was affected, too. An Eastmont Hills homeowner whose property has a tiny backyard stream valley, dry most of the year, told me that he saw water rise in it within hours of the Napa quake, and the stream ran high for about two weeks.

The Oakland Earthquake of 20XX will be a Katrina-sized event, much worse than the Loma Prieta quake (another October surprise that happened 28 years ago tomorrow). The more we’re aware, the more we prepare, the less likely that our local Katrina will be our Katrina catastrophe. And let’s hope it picks a different month to strike.

In housekeeping news, I’ve pulled earthquake-related posts into their own category, mostly separate from posts about the Hayward fault.

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