Monday, June 12, 2017

Peter's POV - May 2017


It looks like the City of San Francisco is adding a new tourist attraction to the city's landscape. The Golden Gate Bridge, China Town, The Embarcadero, The Fisherman's Wharf, Pier 39, Lombard Street just to name a few, will be joined with a new attraction so even more tourist can cram into the already jam packed city.

What I'm talking about?

The Millennium Tower, which was built just about 8 years ago, decided that the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy gets too much attention and fame. The Millennium Tower, which has sunk into the ground a bit and is leaning these days, had set its sights on usurping the tower at Pisa as the most leaning tower on earth. You know here in America if you are not the biggest, the strongest or the best, then nobody gives a hoot. That’s why we call the championship games in baseball the Word Series, the basketball finals the World Championship, although everybody knows that in other countries people play pretty good baseball and basketball too. So The Millennium Tower wanted to be the Most Leaning Tower on earth. The way things go, it has outdone the Leaning Tower of Pisa bigly... (Big-League Ha-ha-ha)

Everybody knows that The Leaning Tower of Pisa, the free standing bell tower, has been tilting ever since it was built in the 14th century. Over approximately the past 800 years the top of the structure has moved horizontally about 13 feet or 154 inches to be exact. In the past almost 10 years the Millennium Tower has leaned about 15 inches on top. If it continues like that, in the next 100 years it will reach the displacement of The Tower of Pisa. After that? It will have the title: The World Champion of The Leaning Towers! We will be the best in the world again! (You don't have to worry about what will happen 800 years from now, but theoretically the horizontal displacement would be about 100 ft.)

What has really happened?

The 58 story concrete condominium building, said to be the heaviest building west of the Mississippi, was built on a landfill. There are two ways to build on a landfill to avoid excessive and uneven or differential settlement, which can create this type of leaning. Use a "Mat" foundation, which is a massive concrete footing occupying the entire foundation area of the building to spread the vertical-gravity load, (excessively used in the low lying, marshy areas in Texas) or use deep piles to reach the underlying bedrock for firm support. Neither system was used. The piles supporting the building did not go deep enough into the bedrock, in this case about 200 feet below the surface. Instead, the builders relied on piles that were driven into firmly compacted sand and mud about 60 to 90 feet below.

Who is at fault?

If the structural engineer followed the soil or geotechnical engineer's recommendations and did not make calculation mistakes, it appears that the geotechnical engineer is on the hook.

In the meantime, values of the condominium properties are plunging and the lawyers are circling like vultures in the San Francisco sky...


A very strange thing happened lately to our office.

Most of you know that there is a state law for structural observations for certain phases of construction, performed by the design structural engineer. This structural observation has nothing to do with the city's inspector coming to the site and signing the job card. This structural observation program was designed to protect the owner of the job, that the contractor builds the structure exactly as it was designed by the structural engineer and approved by the city's plan checker and doesn't leave out any important element from the construction. It also protects the contractor by shifting the responsibility to the structural engineer, should any problem surface long after the building was finished, because he approved every phase of the construction. It is a win-win situation.

When we finished a small residential project lately, the contractor noticed the mandatory structural observation schedule on the plans. He immediately demanded the removal of those, saying that he knows how to build a building and he doesn't need anybody to check his work. He said he knows the city building inspector and he - the inspector - will approve his work, so he doesn't want the structural engineer coming to the site during construction. We tried, unsuccessfully, to explain to him that if we do not comply with the state law and don't indicate the necessary structural observations on the plans, we could be legally liable. We also told him, that if he doesn't want us to perform these observations, then don't call us, we will not go on our own, only when it is requested.

Unfortunately we didn't come to an agreement, we did not remove the observation schedule, but he didn't pay us for the work either. We did not have a choice, but had to go to court to have the court decide. The question really was: As a professional, can we do less than the law requires, even if it is with the knowledge and the request of the client?

What do you think what was the court decision?

P.S. Of course, the law was upheld. We won and even got paid, although it looks like - not surprisingly - the contractor will not use our services in the near future...


You really think housing is pricey in America? Be glad you're not in Hong Kong! Are prices are getting out of control? Maybe so if you consider that a dilapidated fixer-upper in San Francisco can fetch easily over a couple million dollars, but if you fantasize about going abroad to get more home for your buck/euro/yen, make sure you choose wisely.

A recent study of more than 300 metropolitan housing markets in nine countries by research group Demographia found U.S. Housing markets to be the most affordable, beating out Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and China (well, just Hong Kong).
To rate affordability, researchers used a metric called "median multipliers", which is the median housing price divided by the median housing income. Basically it's how many years' worth of household income you'd need to buy a home. A market is rated "unaffordable" with a calculated value of above 3.0 and "severely unaffordable" if it's above 5.1.

There was a lot of variation among the 88 markets surveyed in the U.S., from a bottom-scraping 2.1 in Detroit to 9.2 in San Francisco, but the average rating stands at 3.4 and even if you're counting only major markets (with population over 1 million) the rating is still 3.6.

But that's remarkably livable compared to Hong Kong, at the other end of the scale with a median multiple of 17, a record high in the 11 years of the survey. Put into starkly human terms, even if you could direct all your household income toward buying a house, it would take 17 years before you can afford one. By the way, Hong Kong also had the smallest homes in the study, with an average size of a new home at just 484 square feet.

Working 17 years for a home of 484 square feet? I think we should stop crying foul for our home prices "going thru the roof..."

Monday, January 30, 2017

Peter's POV - January 2017


This is really earth shattering news!

A short time ago Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 1069 and AB 2299, known as the Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) State Law, effective January 1, 2017. These laws are a significant change to the State's ADU regulations. The new laws require that local jurisdictions allow ADUs by-right under certain mandatory development standards, and require that local jurisdictions, if seeking to establish additional regulations, do so via an ordinance facilitating the ministerial creation of ADUs, consistent with state law.
A few important points of this new law:
  • ADUs are allowed on any lot zoned for single-family or multifamily use that contains an existing, single-family dwelling.
  • Detached ADUs are limited to a maximum size of 50% of existing living area, excluding garages.
  • Detached ADUs are considered an "accessory building" and are subject to the setback requirements set forth in the local building code.
  • No setbacks shall be required for an existing garage that is converted to an ADU, including when existing space above or adjacent to a garage is converted to an ADU.
  • For newly constructed ADUs above a garage, setbacks from the side and rear lot lines shall be the lesser of such setbacks as required by the Zoning Code or 5 feet. The ADU can extend beyond the footprint of the garage but maintain a five foot setback.
  • One parking spot per ADU is required and may be provided as tandem parking on an existing driveway and within the required front yard.
  • When a garage, carport or covered parking structure is demolished or ceases to exist, in conjunction with the construction of an Accessory Dwelling Unit, the replacement parking spaces may be located in any configuration on the same lot as the Accessory Dwelling Unit, including, but not limited to uncovered spaces, tandem spaces, in required setback areas or by the use of mechanical automobile parking lifts.
  • Parking is not required for an Accessory Dwelling Unit if:
  1. It is located within one -half mile of public transit stop
  2. It is located in a Historic District
  3. It is part of the existing primary residence or an existing accessory structure
  4. When there is a car share vehicle located within one block of the ADU
  • Unit is not intended for sale but can be rented out.
  • Starting January 1, 2017, applicants may apply for permits for the construction of ADU that meet the State standards above. These standards will remain effective until every City adopts its own ADU Ordinance in compliance with the State Law.
  • ADU can be attached or detached from the existing SFD
  • Maximum increase in floor area does not exceed 1,200 square feet attached to the SFD
  • Total area of a detached ADU does not exceed 1,200 square feet.
I believe this new State Law will spur a brand new construction boom, because it will offer a full second unit on the same lot, unlike the previously constructed “granny unit” without a kitchen and a full bathroom. And renting it out will help with the home owner financially. Of course, it is to be expected that different cities will try to manipulate this law to their liking, but I think the essence cannot be changed much.

Great news for the New Year!!!


With the recent rains early January, it seems that the great drought is over, at least temporarily. For almost 5 years we had less than average rain every single year, putting an enormous pressure on people and utility companies as well. Is it climate change, or just like in the Bible, that many meager years will be followed by many fat years? I don't know. (I think it was seven fat years followed by seven meager years, but you get the point.) None the less, with the growing population and the pressure to produce even more food for California and the Nation as well, it is an imminent problem to produce more water and produce it in a more predictable way. I think everybody agrees with me that we should set priorities on how we spend or allocate state collected tax money to accommodate this.

Of course, I'm no expert in this field, but consider this: Northern California doesn't have any significant water shortage, it is mainly Southern California suffering from water shortage. Actually we have plenty of water in the Pacific Ocean but unfortunately it is pretty salty. Other countries like Israel and Saudi Arabia have very similar problems but they have a solution -- de-salinate the ocean water. I know it is more expensive then harvesting fresh water from rivers and fresh water lakes, but if there is no water in the reservoirs then what do you do?
Let's just play with the numbers for a second.

Consider this: the newly built Carlsbad Desalination Plant provides approx. 7-10% of the entire San Diego county water supply needed. How many people live and work in San Diego County? About 3.5 million people. 10% of 3.5 million people is 350,000 people. California’s entire population is about 35 million people. 350,000 is 1% of 35 million. So about 100 similar de-salination plants would be needed for the entire state of California if we use only de-salinated water. Approx. 70% of Californians live in Southern California. That would reduce the numbers to 70 plants. Of course we still have the available reservoirs, rivers, aquifers, the traditional sources for fresh water in our state. Here comes a little guessing game. In a severe drought condition how much of these traditional sources will still be providing water? 50%? 40%? 30%? I don't know, but let’s use a worst case scenario and say only 30% of the needed water will be available by the traditional way. That would reduce the needed de-salinating plants to about 50.

The cost of the Carlsbad plant was about 1 billion dollars (one billion with a B). That is a lot of money. 50 of those of course would be 50 billion. Let me repeat it: it is a lot of money. In comparison, the entire state budget for the fiscal year of 2016-2017 is a little more over 150 billion dollars. But if only 2 of these plants would be built in a year, the state water shortage problem would be solved in about 25 years for good. Probably you noticed that I didn't mentioned any concerns of the environmental activists, like tiny fish will get caught at the intake on the ocean floor and concentrated salt will be put back into the already salty ocean. Really?

One more statistic. The proposed California bullet train is budgeted to cost about 67 billion dollars but skeptics predict it will cost close to 100 billion dollars at the end. I'm all for public transportation but if the question is to choose between survival or just another way to get to San Francisco, my choice is very simple. Or we may need that bullet train when we down south want a drink of water.

What do you think?


During this latest election cycle, we've heard a lot about adult children living in the basement of their parents’ homes. How does this situation affect the real estate market and construction industry?

The job market for young adults has been improving gradually since 2010, yet the number of young professionals living with their parents is continuing to climb. As recently as this year, about 26 percent of millennials - those aged 18 to 34 - are living with their parents, according to the Pew Research Center. The trend is most pronounced among 25 year olds. Why is that?

The truth is that most of the millennials would love to move off on their own rather than back under their parent's roof, but due to all of the college loans and difficulty finding a job, or at least a job with a decent salary and benefits, they are forced to move back home. If it weren't for the astounding tuition costs, other staggering expenses and their salaries incapable of offsetting these rising expenses, you could be sure that a lot more millennials would choose their own independence over reverting to a place of inadequacy.

But financially speaking, the growing number of young adults living with their parents threatens their parents' retirement financially and psychologically. Baby boomers who support adult children are much more likely than other baby boomers to report moderate to high financial anxiety. So is it time for baby boomers to show some "tough love"? Many say that baby boomers shouldn't allow their adult children to move back home, even when they struggle to find a job or manage their money. If they do absolutely have to move back home they need to pay rent and the terms need to be inked on paper.

On the other hand, taking care of children in need, even if they are young adults, is making a stronger family. You know, what goes around comes around. When parents force their unprepared children out on their own, what can the parents expect when they themselves are in need of care and support in their later years? This is a country of lonely elderly people and when I see an RV with a bumper sticker that says "We are spending our children's inheritance,” I can only think "there goes a couple whose children won't answer their calls someday!”

So what is the solution?

I'm not in favor of big federal programs, but this is an area where careful consideration of federal money for housing can be applied in the form of low down payments and lower interest rates. The higher the education of the individual young adult is, the more likely that he or she will be able to pay the loan back, so interest rates and down payments would be tied to excellence in education.

I think it would stimulate harder studying and construction of new housing for young adults as well.

Am I dreaming only?

Friday, October 7, 2016


When my beautiful and smart daughter moved to Seattle recently I was happy and proud of her achieving the things in life she was pursuing. After all she is a professional geologist with a Master Degree, a California State Professional Licensee and has an unbelievable positive outlook on life. She is doing great and having lots of fun there. She is very happy. I was too, until I read the following article in the New Yorker. It is about "The Really Big One" and it is one of the most intriguing science based articles I've read recently, written by Kathryn Schulz, staff writer of "The New Yorker". She won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing and a National Magazine Award for "The Really Big One", her story on the seismic risk in the Pacific Northwest.

The article is a riveting, Hitchcockian suspense story, going back about 300 years in time, putting together a science puzzle which when finished, could spell dire consequences for the Pacific Northwest region. It is one of the greatest scientific detective stories of our time which would make even Sherlock Holmes proud to solve. The piece is long, so if you don't have 15 or 20 minutes, find another time to read it because if you start you cannot help but finishing it. I guarantee, it will change your perception about earthquakes and tsunamis and their devastating effects.

At the end of the story you'll ask the question: Why are we afraid of earthquakes in Southern California where we “only” have to deal with San Andreas size of earthquakes?

Because I think this is such a fascinating and important piece, I’ve decided to save you the trouble of hunting for the article and dedicating this issue of my newsletter to it. So, here it is:

The Really Big One
An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when.

By Kathryn Schulz, The New Yorker, July 20, 2015 issue 

When the 2011 earthquake and tsunami struck Tohoku, Japan, Chris Goldfinger was two hundred miles away, in the city of Kashiwa, at an international meeting on seismology. As the shaking started, everyone in the room began to laugh. Earthquakes are common in Japan—that one was the third of the week—and the participants were, after all, at a seismology conference. Then everyone in the room checked the time.

Seismologists know that how long an earthquake lasts is a decent proxy for its magnitude. The 1989 earthquake in Loma Prieta, California, which killed sixty-three people and caused six billion dollars’ worth of damage, lasted about fifteen seconds and had a magnitude of 6.9. A thirty-second earthquake generally has a magnitude in the mid-sevens. A minute-long quake is in the high sevens, a two-minute quake has entered the eights, and a three-minute quake is in the high eights. By four minutes, an earthquake has hit magnitude 9.0.

When Goldfinger looked at his watch, it was quarter to three. The conference was wrapping up for the day. He was thinking about sushi. The speaker at the lectern was wondering if he should carry on with his talk. The earthquake was not particularly strong. Then it ticked past the sixty-second mark, making it longer than the others that week. The shaking intensified. The seats in the conference room were small plastic desks with wheels. Goldfinger, who is tall and solidly built, thought, No way am I crouching under one of those for cover. At a minute and a half, everyone in the room got up and went outside.

It was March. There was a chill in the air, and snow flurries, but no snow on the ground. Nor, from the feel of it, was there ground on the ground. The earth snapped and popped and rippled. It was, Goldfinger thought, like driving through rocky terrain in a vehicle with no shocks, if both the vehicle and the terrain were also on a raft in high seas. The quake passed the two-minute mark. The trees, still hung with the previous autumn’s dead leaves, were making a strange rattling sound. The flagpole atop the building he and his colleagues had just vacated was whipping through an arc of forty degrees. The building itself was base-isolated, a seismic-safety technology in which the body of a structure rests on movable bearings rather than directly on its foundation. Goldfinger lurched over to take a look. The base was lurching, too, back and forth a foot at a time, digging a trench in the yard. He thought better of it, and lurched away. His watch swept past the three-minute mark and kept going.

Oh, shit, Goldfinger thought, although not in dread, at first: in amazement. For decades, seismologists had believed that Japan could not experience an earthquake stronger than magnitude 8.4. In 2005, however, at a conference in Hokudan, a Japanese geologist named Yasutaka Ikeda had argued that the nation should expect a magnitude 9.0 in the near future—with catastrophic consequences, because Japan’s famous earthquake-and-tsunami preparedness, including the height of its sea walls, was based on incorrect science. The presentation was met with polite applause and thereafter largely ignored. Now, Goldfinger realized as the shaking hit the four-minute mark, the planet was proving the Japanese Cassandra right.

For a moment, that was pretty cool: a real-time revolution in earthquake science. Almost immediately, though, it became extremely uncool, because Goldfinger and every other seismologist standing outside in Kashiwa knew what was coming. One of them pulled out a cell phone and started streaming videos from the Japanese broadcasting station NHK, shot by helicopters that had flown out to sea soon after the shaking started. Thirty minutes after Goldfinger first stepped outside, he watched the tsunami roll in, in real time, on a two-inch screen.

In the end, the magnitude-9.0 Tohoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami killed more than eighteen thousand people, devastated northeast Japan, triggered the meltdown at the Fukushima power plant, and cost an estimated two hundred and twenty billion dollars. The shaking earlier in the week turned out to be the foreshocks of the largest earthquake in the nation’s recorded history. But for Chris Goldfinger, a paleoseismologist at Oregon State University and one of the world’s leading experts on a little-known fault line, the main quake was itself a kind of foreshock: a preview of another earthquake still to come.

Most people in the United States know just one fault line by name: the San Andreas, which runs nearly the length of California and is perpetually rumored to be on the verge of unleashing “the big one.” That rumor is misleading, no matter what the San Andreas ever does. Every fault line has an upper limit to its potency, determined by its length and width, and by how far it can slip. For the San Andreas, one of the most extensively studied and best understood fault lines in the world, that upper limit is roughly an 8.2—a powerful earthquake, but, because the Richter scale is logarithmic, only six per cent as strong as the 2011 event in Japan.

Just north of the San Andreas, however, lies another fault line. Known as the Cascadia subduction zone, it runs for seven hundred miles off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, beginning near Cape Mendocino, California, continuing along Oregon and Washington, and terminating around Vancouver Island, Canada. The “Cascadia” part of its name comes from the Cascade Range, a chain of volcanic mountains that follow the same course a hundred or so miles inland. The “subduction zone” part refers to a region of the planet where one tectonic plate is sliding underneath (subducting) another. Tectonic plates are those slabs of mantle and crust that, in their epochs-long drift, rearrange the earth’s continents and oceans. Most of the time, their movement is slow, harmless, and all but undetectable. Occasionally, at the borders where they meet, it is not.

Take your hands and hold them palms down, middle fingertips touching. Your right hand represents the North American tectonic plate, which bears on its back, among other things, our entire continent, from One World Trade Center to the Space Needle, in Seattle. Your left hand represents an oceanic plate called Juan de Fuca, ninety thousand square miles in size. The place where they meet is the Cascadia subduction zone. Now slide your left hand under your right one. That is what the Juan de Fuca plate is doing: slipping steadily beneath North America. When you try it, your right hand will slide up your left arm, as if you were pushing up your sleeve. That is what North America is not doing. It is stuck, wedged tight against the surface of the other plate.

Without moving your hands, curl your right knuckles up, so that they point toward the ceiling. Under pressure from Juan de Fuca, the stuck edge of North America is bulging upward and compressing eastward, at the rate of, respectively, three to four millimetres and thirty to forty millimetres a year. It can do so for quite some time, because, as continent stuff goes, it is young, made of rock that is still relatively elastic. (Rocks, like us, get stiffer as they age.) But it cannot do so indefinitely. There is a backstop—the craton, that ancient unbudgeable mass at the center of the continent—and, sooner or later, North America will rebound like a spring. If, on that occasion, only the southern part of the Cascadia subduction zone gives way—your first two fingers, say—the magnitude of the resulting quake will be somewhere between 8.0 and 8.6. That’s the big one. If the entire zone gives way at once, an event that seismologists call a full-margin rupture, the magnitude will be somewhere between 8.7 and 9.2. That’s the very big one.

Flick your right fingers outward, forcefully, so that your hand flattens back down again. When the next very big earthquake hits, the northwest edge of the continent, from California to Canada and the continental shelf to the Cascades, will drop by as much as six feet and rebound thirty to a hundred feet to the west—losing, within minutes, all the elevation and compression it has gained over centuries. Some of that shift will take place beneath the ocean, displacing a colossal quantity of seawater. (Watch what your fingertips do when you flatten your hand.) The water will surge upward into a huge hill, then promptly collapse. One side will rush west, toward Japan. The other side will rush east, in a seven-hundred-mile liquid wall that will reach the Northwest coast, on average, fifteen minutes after the earthquake begins. By the time the shaking has ceased and the tsunami has receded, the region will be unrecognizable. Kenneth Murphy, who directs FEMA’s Region X, the division responsible for Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska, says, “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.”

In the Pacific Northwest, the area of impact will cover* some hundred and forty thousand square miles, including Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Eugene, Salem (the capital city of Oregon), Olympia (the capital of Washington), and some seven million people. When the next full-margin rupture happens, that region will suffer the worst natural disaster in the history of North America. Roughly three thousand people died in San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake. Almost two thousand died in Hurricane Katrina. Almost three hundred died in Hurricane Sandy. FEMA projects that nearly thirteen thousand people will die in the Cascadia earthquake and tsunami. Another twenty-seven thousand will be injured, and the agency expects that it will need to provide shelter for a million displaced people, and food and water for another two and a half million. “This is one time that I’m hoping all the science is wrong, and it won’t happen for another thousand years,” Murphy says.

In fact, the science is robust, and one of the chief scientists behind it is Chris Goldfinger. Thanks to work done by him and his colleagues, we now know that the odds of the big Cascadia earthquake happening in the next fifty years are roughly one in three. The odds of the very big one are roughly one in ten. Even those numbers do not fully reflect the danger—or, more to the point, how unprepared the Pacific Northwest is to face it. The truly worrisome figures in this story are these: Thirty years ago, no one knew that the Cascadia subduction zone had ever produced a major earthquake. Forty-five years ago, no one even knew it existed.

In May of 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, together with their Corps of Discovery, set off from St. Louis on America’s first official cross-country expedition. Eighteen months later, they reached the Pacific Ocean and made camp near the present-day town of Astoria, Oregon. The United States was, at the time, twenty-nine years old. Canada was not yet a country. The continent’s far expanses were so unknown to its white explorers that Thomas Jefferson, who commissioned the journey, thought that the men would come across woolly mammoths. Native Americans had lived in the Northwest for millennia, but they had no written language, and the many things to which the arriving Europeans subjected them did not include seismological inquiries. The newcomers took the land they encountered at face value, and at face value it was a find: vast, cheap, temperate, fertile, and, to all appearances, remarkably benign.

A century and a half elapsed before anyone had any inkling that the Pacific Northwest was not a quiet place but a place in a long period of quiet. It took another fifty years to uncover and interpret the region’s seismic history. Geology, as even geologists will tell you, is not normally the sexiest of disciplines; it hunkers down with earthly stuff while the glory accrues to the human and the cosmic—to genetics, neuroscience, physics. But, sooner or later, every field has its field day, and the discovery of the Cascadia subduction zone stands as one of the greatest scientific detective stories of our time.

The first clue came from geography. Almost all of the world’s most powerful earthquakes occur in the Ring of Fire, the volcanically and seismically volatile swath of the Pacific that runs from New Zealand up through Indonesia and Japan, across the ocean to Alaska, and down the west coast of the Americas to Chile. Japan, 2011, magnitude 9.0; Indonesia, 2004, magnitude 9.1; Alaska, 1964, magnitude 9.2; Chile, 1960, magnitude 9.5—not until the late nineteen-sixties, with the rise of the theory of plate tectonics, could geologists explain this pattern. The Ring of Fire, it turns out, is really a ring of subduction zones. Nearly all the earthquakes in the region are caused by continental plates getting stuck on oceanic plates—as North America is stuck on Juan de Fuca—and then getting abruptly unstuck. And nearly all the volcanoes are caused by the oceanic plates sliding deep beneath the continental ones, eventually reaching temperatures and pressures so extreme that they melt the rock above them.

The Pacific Northwest sits squarely within the Ring of Fire. Off its coast, an oceanic plate is slipping beneath a continental one. Inland, the Cascade volcanoes mark the line where, far below, the Juan de Fuca plate is heating up and melting everything above it. In other words, the Cascadia subduction zone has, as Goldfinger put it, “all the right anatomical parts.” Yet not once in recorded history has it caused a major earthquake—or, for that matter, any quake to speak of. By contrast, other subduction zones produce major earthquakes occasionally and minor ones all the time: magnitude 5.0, magnitude 4.0, magnitude why are the neighbors moving their sofa at midnight. You can scarcely spend a week in Japan without feeling this sort of earthquake. You can spend a lifetime in many parts of the Northwest—several, in fact, if you had them to spend—and not feel so much as a quiver. The question facing geologists in the nineteen-seventies was whether the Cascadia subduction zone had ever broken its eerie silence.

In the late nineteen-eighties, Brian Atwater, a geologist with the United States Geological Survey, and a graduate student named David Yamaguchi found the answer, and another major clue in the Cascadia puzzle. Their discovery is best illustrated in a place called the ghost forest, a grove of western red cedars on the banks of the Copalis River, near the Washington coast. When I paddled out to it last summer, with Atwater and Yamaguchi, it was easy to see how it got its name. The cedars are spread out across a low salt marsh on a wide northern bend in the river, long dead but still standing. Leafless, branchless, barkless, they are reduced to their trunks and worn to a smooth silver-gray, as if they had always carried their own tombstones inside them.

What killed the trees in the ghost forest was saltwater. It had long been assumed that they died slowly, as the sea level around them gradually rose and submerged their roots. But, by 1987, Atwater, who had found in soil layers evidence of sudden land subsidence along the Washington coast, suspected that that was backward—that the trees had died quickly when the ground beneath them plummeted. To find out, he teamed up with Yamaguchi, a specialist in dendrochronology, the study of growth-ring patterns in trees. Yamaguchi took samples of the cedars and found that they had died simultaneously: in tree after tree, the final rings dated to the summer of 1699. Since trees do not grow in the winter, he and Atwater concluded that sometime between August of 1699 and May of 1700 an earthquake had caused the land to drop and killed the cedars. That time frame predated by more than a hundred years the written history of the Pacific Northwest—and so, by rights, the detective story should have ended there.

But it did not. If you travel five thousand miles due west from the ghost forest, you reach the northeast coast of Japan. As the events of 2011 made clear, that coast is vulnerable to tsunamis, and the Japanese have kept track of them since at least 599 A.D. In that fourteen-hundred-year history, one incident has long stood out for its strangeness. On the eighth day of the twelfth month of the twelfth year of the Genroku era, a six-hundred-mile-long wave struck the coast, levelling homes, breaching a castle moat, and causing an accident at sea. The Japanese understood that tsunamis were the result of earthquakes, yet no one felt the ground shake before the Genroku event. The wave had no discernible origin. When scientists began studying it, they called it an orphan tsunami.

Finally, in a 1996 article in Nature, a seismologist named Kenji Satake and three colleagues, drawing on the work of Atwater and Yamaguchi, matched that orphan to its parent—and thereby filled in the blanks in the Cascadia story with uncanny specificity. At approximately nine o’ clock at night on January 26, 1700, a magnitude-9.0 earthquake struck the Pacific Northwest, causing sudden land subsidence, drowning coastal forests, and, out in the ocean, lifting up a wave half the length of a continent. It took roughly fifteen minutes for the Eastern half of that wave to strike the Northwest coast. It took ten hours for the other half to cross the ocean. It reached Japan on January 27, 1700: by the local calendar, the eighth day of the twelfth month of the twelfth year of Genroku.

Once scientists had reconstructed the 1700 earthquake, certain previously overlooked accounts also came to seem like clues. In 1964, Chief Louis Nookmis, of the Huu-ay-aht First Nation, in British Columbia, told a story, passed down through seven generations, about the eradication of Vancouver Island’s Pachena Bay people. “I think it was at nighttime that the land shook,” Nookmis recalled. According to another tribal history, “They sank at once, were all drowned; not one survived.” A hundred years earlier, Billy Balch, a leader of the Makah tribe, recounted a similar story. Before his own time, he said, all the water had receded from Washington State’s Neah Bay, then suddenly poured back in, inundating the entire region. Those who survived later found canoes hanging from the trees. In a 2005 study, Ruth Ludwin, then a seismologist at the University of Washington, together with nine colleagues, collected and analyzed Native American reports of earthquakes and saltwater floods. Some of those reports contained enough information to estimate a date range for the events they described. On average, the midpoint of that range was 1701.

It does not speak well of European-Americans that such stories counted as evidence for a proposition only after that proposition had been proved. Still, the reconstruction of the Cascadia earthquake of 1700 is one of those rare natural puzzles whose pieces fit together as tectonic plates do not: perfectly. It is wonderful science. It was wonderful for science. And it was terrible news for the millions of inhabitants of the Pacific Northwest. As Goldfinger put it, “In the late eighties and early nineties, the paradigm shifted to ‘uh-oh.’ ”

Goldfinger told me this in his lab at Oregon State, a low prefab building that a passing English major might reasonably mistake for the maintenance department. Inside the lab is a walk-in freezer. Inside the freezer are floor-to-ceiling racks filled with cryptically labelled tubes, four inches in diameter and five feet long. Each tube contains a core sample of the seafloor. Each sample contains the history, written in seafloorese, of the past ten thousand years. During subduction-zone earthquakes, torrents of land rush off the continental slope, leaving a permanent deposit on the bottom of the ocean. By counting the number and the size of deposits in each sample, then comparing their extent and consistency along the length of the Cascadia subduction zone, Goldfinger and his colleagues were able to determine how much of the zone has ruptured, how often, and how drastically.

Thanks to that work, we now know that the Pacific Northwest has experienced forty-one subduction-zone earthquakes in the past ten thousand years. If you divide ten thousand by forty-one, you get two hundred and forty-three, which is Cascadia’s recurrence interval: the average amount of time that elapses between earthquakes. That timespan is dangerous both because it is too long—long enough for us to unwittingly build an entire civilization on top of our continent’s worst fault line—and because it is not long enough. Counting from the earthquake of 1700, we are now three hundred and fifteen years into a two-hundred-and-forty-three-year cycle.

It is possible to quibble with that number. Recurrence intervals are averages, and averages are tricky: ten is the average of nine and eleven, but also of eighteen and two. It is not possible, however, to dispute the scale of the problem. The devastation in Japan in 2011 was the result of a discrepancy between what the best science predicted and what the region was prepared to withstand. The same will hold true in the Pacific Northwest—but here the discrepancy is enormous. “The science part is fun,” Goldfinger says. “And I love doing it. But the gap between what we know and what we should do about it is getting bigger and bigger, and the action really needs to turn to responding. Otherwise, we’re going to be hammered. I’ve been through one of these massive earthquakes in the most seismically prepared nation on earth. If that was Portland”—Goldfinger finished the sentence with a shake of his head before he finished it with words. “Let’s just say I would rather not be here.”

The first sign that the Cascadia earthquake has begun will be a compressional wave, radiating outward from the fault line. Compressional waves are fast-moving, high-frequency waves, audible to dogs and certain other animals but experienced by humans only as a sudden jolt. They are not very harmful, but they are potentially very useful, since they travel fast enough to be detected by sensors thirty to ninety seconds ahead of other seismic waves. That is enough time for earthquake early-warning systems, such as those in use throughout Japan, to automatically perform a variety of lifesaving functions: shutting down railways and power plants, opening elevators and firehouse doors, alerting hospitals to halt surgeries, and triggering alarms so that the general public can take cover. The Pacific Northwest has no early-warning system. When the Cascadia earthquake begins, there will be, instead, a cacophony of barking dogs and a long, suspended, what-was-that moment before the surface waves arrive. Surface waves are slower, lower-frequency waves that move the ground both up and down and side to side: the shaking, starting in earnest.

Soon after that shaking begins, the electrical grid will fail, likely everywhere west of the Cascades and possibly well beyond. If it happens at night, the ensuing catastrophe will unfold in darkness. In theory, those who are at home when it hits should be safest; it is easy and relatively inexpensive to seismically safeguard a private dwelling. But, lulled into nonchalance by their seemingly benign environment, most people in the Pacific Northwest have not done so. That nonchalance will shatter instantly. So will everything made of glass. Anything indoors and unsecured will lurch across the floor or come crashing down: bookshelves, lamps, computers, cannisters of flour in the pantry. Refrigerators will walk out of kitchens, unplugging themselves and toppling over. Water heaters will fall and smash interior gas lines. Houses that are not bolted to their foundations will slide off—or, rather, they will stay put, obeying inertia, while the foundations, together with the rest of the Northwest, jolt westward. Unmoored on the undulating ground, the homes will begin to collapse.

Across the region, other, larger structures will also start to fail. Until 1974, the state of Oregon had no seismic code, and few places in the Pacific Northwest had one appropriate to a magnitude-9.0 earthquake until 1994. The vast majority of buildings in the region were constructed before then. Ian Madin, who directs the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI), estimates that seventy-five per cent of all structures in the state are not designed to withstand a major Cascadia quake. FEMA calculates that, across the region, something on the order of a million buildings—more than three thousand of them schools—will collapse or be compromised in the earthquake. So will half of all highway bridges, fifteen of the seventeen bridges spanning Portland’s two rivers, and two-thirds of railways and airports; also, one-third of all fire stations, half of all police stations, and two-thirds of all hospitals.

Certain disasters stem from many small problems conspiring to cause one very large problem. For want of a nail, the war was lost; for fifteen independently insignificant errors, the jetliner was lost. Subduction-zone earthquakes operate on the opposite principle: one enormous problem causes many other enormous problems. The shaking from the Cascadia quake will set off landslides throughout the region—up to thirty thousand of them in Seattle alone, the city’s emergency-management office estimates. It will also induce a process called liquefaction, whereby seemingly solid ground starts behaving like a liquid, to the detriment of anything on top of it. Fifteen per cent of Seattle is built on liquefiable land, including seventeen day-care centers and the homes of some thirty-four thousand five hundred people. So is Oregon’s critical energy-infrastructure hub, a six-mile stretch of Portland through which flows ninety per cent of the state’s liquid fuel and which houses everything from electrical substations to natural-gas terminals. Together, the sloshing, sliding, and shaking will trigger fires, flooding, pipe failures, dam breaches, and hazardous-material spills. Any one of these second-order disasters could swamp the original earthquake in terms of cost, damage, or casualties—and one of them definitely will. Four to six minutes after the dogs start barking, the shaking will subside. For another few minutes, the region, upended, will continue to fall apart on its own. Then the wave will arrive, and the real destruction will begin.

Among natural disasters, tsunamis may be the closest to being completely unsurvivable. The only likely way to outlive one is not to be there when it happens: to steer clear of the vulnerable area in the first place, or get yourself to high ground as fast as possible. For the seventy-one thousand people who live in Cascadia’s inundation zone, that will mean evacuating in the narrow window after one disaster ends and before another begins. They will be notified to do so only by the earthquake itself—“a vibrate-alert system,” Kevin Cupples, the city planner for the town of Seaside, Oregon, jokes—and they are urged to leave on foot, since the earthquake will render roads impassable. Depending on location, they will have between ten and thirty minutes to get out. That time line does not allow for finding a flashlight, tending to an earthquake injury, hesitating amid the ruins of a home, searching for loved ones, or being a Good Samaritan. “When that tsunami is coming, you run,” Jay Wilson, the chair of the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Commission (OSSPAC), says. “You protect yourself, you don’t turn around, you don’t go back to save anybody. You run for your life.”

The time to save people from a tsunami is before it happens, but the region has not yet taken serious steps toward doing so. Hotels and businesses are not required to post evacuation routes or to provide employees with evacuation training. In Oregon, it has been illegal since 1995 to build hospitals, schools, firehouses, and police stations in the inundation zone, but those which are already in it can stay, and any other new construction is permissible: energy facilities, hotels, retirement homes. In those cases, builders are required only to consult with DOGAMI about evacuation plans. “So you come in and sit down,” Ian Madin says. “And I say, ‘That’s a stupid idea.’ And you say, ‘Thanks. Now we’ve consulted.’ ”

These lax safety policies guarantee that many people inside the inundation zone will not get out. Twenty-two per cent of Oregon’s coastal population is sixty-five or older. Twenty-nine per cent of the state’s population is disabled, and that figure rises in many coastal counties. “We can’t save them,” Kevin Cupples says. “I’m not going to sugarcoat it and say, ‘Oh, yeah, we’ll go around and check on the elderly.’ No. We won’t.” Nor will anyone save the tourists. Washington State Park properties within the inundation zone see an average of seventeen thousand and twenty-nine guests a day. Madin estimates that up to a hundred and fifty thousand people visit Oregon’s beaches on summer weekends. “Most of them won’t have a clue as to how to evacuate,” he says. “And the beaches are the hardest place to evacuate from.”

Those who cannot get out of the inundation zone under their own power will quickly be overtaken by a greater one. A grown man is knocked over by ankle-deep water moving at 6.7 miles an hour. The tsunami will be moving more than twice that fast when it arrives. Its height will vary with the contours of the coast, from twenty feet to more than a hundred feet. It will not look like a Hokusai-style wave, rising up from the surface of the sea and breaking from above. It will look like the whole ocean, elevated, overtaking land. Nor will it be made only of water—not once it reaches the shore. It will be a five-story deluge of pickup trucks and doorframes and cinder blocks and fishing boats and utility poles and everything else that once constituted the coastal towns of the Pacific Northwest.

To see the full scale of the devastation when that tsunami recedes, you would need to be in the international space station. The inundation zone will be scoured of structures from California to Canada. The earthquake will have wrought its worst havoc west of the Cascades but caused damage as far away as Sacramento, California—as distant from the worst-hit areas as Fort Wayne, Indiana, is from New York. FEMA expects to co├Ârdinate search-and-rescue operations across a hundred thousand square miles and in the waters off four hundred and fifty-three miles of coastline. As for casualties: the figures I cited earlier—twenty-seven thousand injured, almost thirteen thousand dead—are based on the agency’s official planning scenario, which has the earthquake striking at 9:41 A.M. on February 6th. If, instead, it strikes in the summer, when the beaches are full, those numbers could be off by a horrifying margin.

Wineglasses, antique vases, Humpty Dumpty, hip bones, hearts: what breaks quickly generally mends slowly, if at all. OSSPAC estimates that in the I-5 corridor it will take between one and three months after the earthquake to restore electricity, a month to a year to restore drinking water and sewer service, six months to a year to restore major highways, and eighteen months to restore health-care facilities. On the coast, those numbers go up. Whoever chooses or has no choice but to stay there will spend three to six months without electricity, one to three years without drinking water and sewage systems, and three or more years without hospitals. Those estimates do not apply to the tsunami-inundation zone, which will remain all but uninhabitable for years.

How much all this will cost is anyone’s guess; FEMA puts every number on its relief-and-recovery plan except a price. But whatever the ultimate figure—and even though U.S. taxpayers will cover seventy-five to a hundred per cent of the damage, as happens in declared disasters—the economy of the Pacific Northwest will collapse. Crippled by a lack of basic services, businesses will fail or move away. Many residents will flee as well. OSSPAC predicts a mass-displacement event and a long-term population downturn. Chris Goldfinger didn’t want to be there when it happened. But, by many metrics, it will be as bad or worse to be there afterward.

On the face of it, earthquakes seem to present us with problems of space: the way we live along fault lines, in brick buildings, in homes made valuable by their proximity to the sea. But, covertly, they also present us with problems of time. The earth is 4.5 billion years old, but we are a young species, relatively speaking, with an average individual allotment of three score years and ten. The brevity of our lives breeds a kind of temporal parochialism—an ignorance of or an indifference to those planetary gears which turn more slowly than our own.

This problem is bidirectional. The Cascadia subduction zone remained hidden from us for so long because we could not see deep enough into the past. It poses a danger to us today because we have not thought deeply enough about the future. That is no longer a problem of information; we now understand very well what the Cascadia fault line will someday do. Nor is it a problem of imagination. If you are so inclined, you can watch an earthquake destroy much of the West Coast this summer in Brad Peyton’s “San Andreas,” while, in neighboring theatres, the world threatens to succumb to Armageddon by other means: viruses, robots, resource scarcity, zombies, aliens, plague. As those movies attest, we excel at imagining future scenarios, including awful ones. But such apocalyptic visions are a form of escapism, not a moral summons, and still less a plan of action. Where we stumble is in conjuring up grim futures in a way that helps to avert them.

That problem is not specific to earthquakes, of course. The Cascadia situation, a calamity in its own right, is also a parable for this age of ecological reckoning, and the questions it raises are ones that we all now face. How should a society respond to a looming crisis of uncertain timing but of catastrophic proportions? How can it begin to right itself when its entire infrastructure and culture developed in a way that leaves it profoundly vulnerable to natural disaster?

The last person I met with in the Pacific Northwest was Doug Dougherty, the superintendent of schools for Seaside, which lies almost entirely within the tsunami-inundation zone. Of the four schools that Dougherty oversees, with a total student population of sixteen hundred, one is relatively safe. The others sit five to fifteen feet above sea level. When the tsunami comes, they will be as much as forty-five feet below it.

In 2009, Dougherty told me, he found some land for sale outside the inundation zone, and proposed building a new K-12 campus there. Four years later, to foot the hundred-and-twenty-eight-million-dollar bill, the district put up a bond measure. The tax increase for residents amounted to two dollars and sixteen cents per thousand dollars of property value. The measure failed by sixty-two per cent. Dougherty tried seeking help from Oregon’s congressional delegation but came up empty. The state makes money available for seismic upgrades, but buildings within the inundation zone cannot apply. At present, all Dougherty can do is make sure that his students know how to evacuate.

Some of them, however, will not be able to do so. At an elementary school in the community of Gearhart, the children will be trapped. “They can’t make it out from that school,” Dougherty said. “They have no place to go.” On one side lies the ocean; on the other, a wide, roadless bog. When the tsunami comes, the only place to go in Gearhart is a small ridge just behind the school. At its tallest, it is forty-five feet high—lower than the expected wave in a full-margin earthquake. For now, the route to the ridge is marked by signs that say “Temporary Tsunami Assembly Area.” I asked Dougherty about the state’s long-range plan. “There is no long-range plan,” he said.

Dougherty’s office is deep inside the inundation zone, a few blocks from the beach. All day long, just out of sight, the ocean rises up and collapses, spilling foamy overlapping ovals onto the shore. Eighty miles farther out, ten thousand feet below the surface of the sea, the hand of a geological clock is somewhere in its slow sweep. All across the region, seismologists are looking at their watches, wondering how long we have, and what we will do, before geological time catches up to our own.

*An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the area of impact.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016



As you probably know the new mandatory "Soft Story Retrofit" ordinance took effect on Nov. 22, 2015 Our office is experiencing an increasing volume of this ordinance related work. We worked out the most effective, safe and economical retrofitting engineering to save money to the landlords. In many instances we proved with calculations only that no retrofitting work was necessary. We hired more people to handle the work load, so we're completely geared up for the engineering work of the mandatory soft-story retrofitting in Los Angeles.
Please recommend us to anyone who needs help with soft-story retrofitting.



Oh, no, no.... I'm not talking about the famous and classic Marilyn Monroe movie from 1955 but rather about current US laws of forgiving after seven years being in the doghouse for doing bad things. As you
know everybody deserves a second chance. (Try to explain that to your wife after forgetting to take out the trash one evening) But seriously, even if you had a bankruptcy the chances are that after seven years all the records (with a few exceptions like federal taxes) related to that bankruptcy will be erased from your record.
The "Great Recession" of 2008 has effected millions of homeowners. Many were 60 days or more past due on their mortgage loan, losing their mortgage through foreclosure, short sale or other non-satisfactory closure, or had a loan modification, etc. Borrowers must often wait for years, generally seven years following a short sale or foreclosure to qualify for a mortgage again. But for those who have repaired their credit, built up their credit score again many of these former homeowners likely will want a second chance at home ownership.

It's been a little over seven years since the beginning of the mortgage crisis in 2008 and this is significant because as I mentioned many derogatory items, such as foreclosures and short sales can prevent consumers for qualifying for a new mortgage for approximately seven years. Enter "The seven year itch" and the "Boomerang buyers"

A "Boomerang buyer" is a former home owner who experienced foreclosure or other negative impacts in the past but become eligible to re-enter the mortgage market after the "penalty years." They are the ones feeling "The seven year itch" to become home owners again. Realtors are experiencing these "Boomerang buyers" coming back to the market in droves. Based on a recent report by the National Associations of Realtors, within five years the number of "Boomerang buyers" wanting to become home owners again could swell to over 2 million, providing a significant pressure on the single family dwelling market. Add to the situation that the Federal Housing Finance Agency's new policy will permit many foreclosed home owners to purchase the homes back that they once had lost at fair market value, you can foresee the boom in the housing market.
So, what is the moral of the story? The American Dream of owning a home, providing stability for the family, is alive again.

Yes, "I'm on my way
I'm on my way
Home sweet home..." (Motley Crue 1985)



There is nothing new about seeing a single family house being torn down and replaced by a larger, more modern house. When a homeowner has a house in a desirable neighborhood from which he doesn't want to move away and his circumstances require more space, he has two choices -- build an addition, usually a second story addition, or replace the entire house with a new one. It is really nothing new, I've made a living for 40 years designing and engineering such additions and remodels or even a new house for the home owner, but there is a new trend emerging and it is not only in the Los Angeles market.
According Census Bureau data, the housing stock continues to age and builders are hard pressed to find suitable lots, so the teardown trend is expected to grow. In 2013, about 47 percent of owner-occupied homes in the U.S. were at least 40 years old. The teardown trend is growing because the older homes in some communities are becoming "functionally obsolete" - the kitchens are enclosed, the ceilings are low, closets and windows are too small, the rooms are too small, they don't have enough bedrooms, etc.
The current trend is to create "Great Rooms" where the kitchen, dining room, den, and living room have no dividing walls. Of course this requires a great cook too, creating wonderful meals, so the good smell of the kitchen can fill the "Great Room".

This teardown trend has a new component lately. With the improving economy there are not just the home owners who are initiating these tear downs but developers, builders looking for profit. It is not unusual but rather the trend that a small two, three bedroom house in a desirable neighborhood is bought by a developer, who increasingly is a large national corporation. In lieu of the one story three bedroom house the neighbors will see a two, sometimes a three story "mansion" built. These homes will sell for millions of dollars. And there are lots of buyers!

So, here is the $64,000.00 question: Is this a good trend?

The answer is obvious for the developers, they make good profits. The state gets more property tax revenue. The construction industry employs more construction workers. And, for the neighbors, the value of their homes goes up, without spending a penny, because they will be in a more pricy neighborhood and without an increase in their property tax due to Proposition 13, at least in California.

So why is there an outcry from neighborhood activists to block this trend? These structures are built according to the newest building codes, complying with all the necessary property setback and height requirements, passed the scrutiny of the strict city Planning Department, they are designed by the newest structural engineering methods and analysis, therefore are more safe in case of earthquakes, they are more energy efficient, etc. Still, neighborhood activists are pressing for more and more "mansonization" laws in different cities to block larger homes. I agree if a neighborhood is a historic neighborhood to keep the "romance" alive and that's why there are "Historic Overlay Zones" created in different city neighborhoods. On the other hand, changes are inevitable in life and if they are for the better we should embrace them. We cannot cling to the status quo forever. Jealous neighborhood activists shouldn't get the upper hand. I came to this country because it promised me, my family and children a fair life and the pursuit of happiness. If for some people a larger house is the happiness within the law, they shouldn't be denied that.

As Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher famously said: "There is only one thing constant in life and that is the change."



When the earth shakes in California, the first place you are likely to hear about it is on social media. "Earthquake!" "Did you feel that?" "How big?" Are the common messages on Twitter and Facebook as Californians try to share information on cell phones in real time while heading under a sturdy table to protect themselves from falling objects? But wouldn't you rather to hear about the upcoming earthquake before it happens and prepare for it? Well, turns out there’s an app for that.

Not too long ago scientists unveiled an app that will test this idea with anyone around the world who wants to participate.  "MyShake", the free app, uses smartphone sensors to detect movement caused by an earthquake. You know earthquakes happen in one location and the waves start moving, much like you throw a pebble into a pond and the waves start moving in a circle of rings. Users who download the app will be sending data to scientists when an earthquake as small as a magnitude 5 hits. By harvesting information from hundreds of phones closest to the earthquake, scientists will be able to test a computer system that could, in the future, dispatch early warnings that shaking is seconds or minutes away to people farther away from the earthquake's origin, to give them a little time to prepare.

This is a citizens' science project, so you could become a bit of a scientist by participating. The app uses a common sensor found in smartphones, called accelerometers that detect which way the phone is oriented -- in a portrait or in a landscape position. The warnings will eventually give trains time to slow down, decreasing a risk of derailment before shaking arrives, sound an alert in hospitals to warn surgeons to halt surgery and have elevators open their doors at the nearest floor, preventing people from becoming trapped or really heading under a sturdy table. This is a welcome development for early earthquake warning and represents a great use of "Crowdsourcing" - using information gathered by the public - for science. "Crowdsourcing" data from citizen scientists are part of a growing trend in many fields of research. The popular software "Waze" is basically using "Crowdsourcing" to help drivers in real time avoid traffic jams and other driving hazards, for example.

So use your phone to help science!!!!