How do I locate the apartment that is safest in a big earthquake?
November 9, 2011 6:21 AM   Subscribe

Moving to the (north) Bay Area of California: How do I best ensure that I (and my assets) survive The Big One unharmed? Eg. What should I look for in an apartment (and why), in terms of geology, design, construction, location, building codes, corner-cutting, etc. to best handle a massive earthquake? Expert or engineer advice would be great. (I'm more interested in how to find an earthquake-proof building and area, than in how to earthquake-proof my stuff once it's inside a building.)

I'm looking at the Novato / San Rafael area, but if for some reason I should be avoiding that and looking nearby at XYZ instead, speak up!

There are plenty of resources for how to earthquake-proof your possessions in your home, but not so many resources about how to find the best geology in which to locate your home, or how to tell if one apartment building is less earthquake-proof than another, etc.
posted by -harlequin- to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I grew up up there :) *happy memories*

Well right off the bat you're in a bit of a better situation not being direction in San Fran (on top of sand and landfill). However, the San Andreas Fault is one hell of a thing, and it basically runs right through San Rafeal.

I don't know if there's a great location anywhere in that area to be unimpacted by an earthquake, but I guess it's a bit important to know where you'll be working, or rather where you will need to be commuting to. If you are going to be a writer or something I would suggest Bolinas
posted by zombieApoc at 6:31 AM on November 9, 2011

Making sure your apartment is on bedrock instead of landfill is a first step. I would also suggest looking at newer buildings, that have been built with California's strict seismic codes, or at least retrofitted. You would probably want to be aware of your distance from the San Andreas Fault.

(I live in an old plaster-lathe house that might be on landfill very close to the Hayward fault... it's fairly typical.)
posted by kendrak at 6:40 AM on November 9, 2011

Response by poster: I'd be working in the San Rafael end of Novato, which is why that's the epicentre of my search. I'm also hoping to cycle commute, so going much further out... it's an option, but close would be nice.

How do I find out if an apartment is on bedrock or landfill?
posted by -harlequin- at 6:44 AM on November 9, 2011

Best answer: You can see shake and liquefaction maps here and here. There's a soil-type map here.

In terms of building type: unreinforced masonry is bad (and likely not approved for residential use anyway, so it's unlikely you'll find a rental made of it, but your work building? Who knows.). Generally speaking, so are buildings where the entire ground floor is a big open space - like, for a garage; they seem to have a tendency to pancake.

The USGS and ABAG sites are great, educational timesucks - use them!
posted by rtha at 7:17 AM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've managed to catch two significant earthquakes in my life (though no Big Ones). It's pretty unlikely that the building you're in will collapse -- most residential buildings are pretty sound. It's much more likely that you'll, say, break your leg, and not have access to power, food, water, transportation, or communication for days or weeks. So prepare for that. Get tons of emergency supplies, make plans with your friends and family, and learn first aid.
posted by miyabo at 7:59 AM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Here is the earthquake website for SF area I took an earthquake preparedness class and they advised doing more like 5-7 days of supplies min. Lots of areas have classes given through the fire dept. This looks like an emergency preparedness site for Marin County. I'd find a class once you're settled- they cover supplies and lots of good stuff like when and how to turn off the gas / water.
posted by oneear at 9:47 AM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Building codes have already baked your concerns into 99.99% of the apartment buildings out there, all except the handful (if any) who for some freak-pie reason don't have to comply with retrofitting requirements instituted after the '89 quake.
posted by rhizome at 9:50 AM on November 9, 2011

Best answer: Landfill is a big issue. A lot of resources also suggest that buildings with a "soft story" are a concern during earthquakes.
posted by lekvar at 12:12 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

What's underneath a building is a major factor - clay over rock is much safer than alluvial deposits, especially wet alluvial.

Bedrock isn't everything though. I once lived on the Port Hills in Christchurch, which is an old volcanic region - clay over basalt. This was consider much tectonically safer than the low-lying liquefaction-prone land most of the city is on. The key point in this thinking was that everyone considered the greatest risk to be a major quake originating in the Alpine Fault ~150km away.

On Feb 22, 2011 that region took a pretty much direct hit - a shallow 6.3 quake less than 5km away on a previously unknown fault. A lot of houses were destroyed or damaged beyond repair, including the house I once lived in.

I'd still prefer bedrock over sandy alluvium, but by far the best protection is being nowhere near the epicenter [not much help to you unfortunately].
posted by HiroProtagonist at 5:15 PM on November 9, 2011

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