Are You At Risk?
You’re walking across a street when you notice a car speeding toward you. Will it hit you?
Think. Where are you in relation to the speeding car? Does the driver see you? Will you make it across the street to safety by continuing at your walking pace? Or, should you break into a run?
You realize the driver doesn’t seem to notice you, and the car isn’t slowing down. You also realize that, unless you run you’ll be run over. You immediately break into a run, and reach the sidewalk just as the car speeds by you.
You’re safe. And you just engaged in the art of risk assessment.
Scientific risk assessment, applied to earthquake hazards, follows a similar process: first, a hazard is identified; second, potential exposure to the hazard is assessed; and third, the risk posed may require action to reduce damage or avoid bodily harm or death.
Put another way, earthquakes are a natural hazard capable of causing harm to humans and/or the built environment. Exposure to earthquakes has to do with frequency (how often a damaging event could occur) and effect on people and the environment. And risk is the possibility of a damaging event arising from exposure.
Think of it this way: a hazard doesn't become a risk unless you are exposed to it. If you are exposed, the exposure could be at a level that might do harm.
If you live in a seismically active area, risk assessment should be one of your highest priorities. You may learn enough about your risk that you decide to buy earthquake insurance, or retrofit your home, or simply start a savings account to help cover the cost of repairs.
The OpenHazards.com tools offer you the ability to calculate the point at which the earthquake hazard in your area might become a risk. The process is simple, and the result may be that you take actions to avoid unnecessary losses and that protect you, your loved ones, and your property.
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John Rundle is a Distinguished Professor of Physics and Geology at UC Davis and the Executive Director of the APEC Collaboration for Earthquake Simulations. He chaired the Board of Advisors for the Southern California Earthquake Center from 1994 to 1996. Read John's blog.