Humboldt County Quake Revives Seismic Safety Debate

Is California prepared for The Big One?

That was the question undoubtedly on many residents’ minds after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake struck Humboldt County in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, resulting in two deaths and at least 12 injuries; damaging homes, roads, bridges, water and gas lines and other critical infrastructure; and leaving about 57,000 PG&E customers without power and many without water.

The Dec. 20 quake occurred in a rural stretch of Northern California known as the Mendocino Triple Junction, where three tectonic plates meet — but many residents said this temblor felt different than those that usually rattle the area.

Eureka resident Dan Dixon told the Associated Press: “It was probably the most violent earthquake we have felt in the 15 years I have lived here.”

Arcata resident Amy Uyeki told the Los Angeles Times: “When it was happening, I thought it was the Big One, because we haven’t felt anything this strong.”

Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services — who is retiring at the end of the year after a decade on the job — noted at a Tuesday press conference that “we live in earthquake country. … This is another example of the fact that earthquakes can occur at any time.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom, who declared a state of emergency in Humboldt County to support the emergency response, said in a statement that state agencies are working with local and tribal governments to provide shelter, food and water; assess damage to buildings and roadways; restore power; aid local hospitals, some of which lost power and were operating on generators; and monitor seismic activity.

Officials also touted early alert systems that helped notify more than 3 million people by phone that an earthquake was coming. About 270,000 people were notified via the MyShake app funded by the state Office of Emergency Services, while most of the rest were Android users who automatically receive earthquake alerts, according to the Los Angeles Times. Some Californians far from the epicenter were also alerted by a shrill alarm that shook them from bed around 2:30 a.m., prompting frustration.

Richard Allen, director of the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory and a leader of the team that developed the MyShake software, told the San Francisco Chronicle: “Earthquake early warning is never going to be perfect. We very rapidly come up with our best estimate of the magnitude, and we send out a warning to anyone in the zone that would normally feel shaking.”

Ghilarducci said: “The system did operate as we had hoped, and (as) we’ve been working to design.”

It’s the latest indication that emergency cell phone alerts have generally proven effective for the state. During the summer heat wave, the Newsom administration decided to send emergency texts to 27 million Californians urging them to conserve energy — a move that brought the state back from the brink of power outages.

Meanwhile, California is quickly approaching a 2030 deadline by which hospitals will be required to be capable of operating as normal after a massive earthquake — or risk being shut down by the state. Hospital groups estimate the required upgrades could cost more than $100 billion, not including financing, and could result in facilities being closed in underserved communities.

In August, an unlikely alliance — the California Hospital Association and the Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West — tried to broker a last-minute deal that would have delayed the 2030 deadline while also raising the minimum wage for some health care workers to $25 per hour. The deal fizzled due to a lack of time, Jan Emerson-Shea, vice president of external affairs for the hospital association, said at the time.

Emerson-Shea said Tuesday: “Hospitals have spent over 20 years and billions of dollars to make sure that buildings are safe” and will remain standing after a major earthquake. “Now it’s a conversation about what services make sense to continue to be available in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.”

Emily Hoeven is a reporter with CalMatters.


  1. Just an Observation,

    Where there is cracking and pitting all over the place around my building at 184 Centre Street and cracks in the foundation, you can see the video here (

    There is a SERIOUS problem with anyone trying to say any structure like this is seismically sound.

    Face the facts, the area is still way behind on seismic refits, and it is just a matter of time when all of these structure come down, and people will sue for improper safety protection for property owners and the local governments.

    Get this FIXED FAST

  2. Just an Observation,

    NOPE, That is your only answer? What happened to accountability? This ABUSE of tenants is not acceptable.

    I will FORCE my property to either get repaired or condemned. You can’t expect me to leave if the owner doesn’t fix the problem. Too bad there are hundreds of apartments like this in the state, and they all are going to be forced to repair or close.

    Somebody here doesn’t like seeing what is really happening here. I will love it if this building needs as little as $500,000 worth of work.

    The ground will have to be dug up, reinforced beams will need to be installed, new foundation installed, face it the entire lot needs to be replaced.

    And this guy bought it for $5M in 2016, WITHOUT a proper seismic analysis

  3. Just an Observation,

    What I find really CRAZY is that LAND is considered so valuable in CA when it is one of the highest risk factors in living in the state.

    And since the soil instability is EVERYWHERE, I can only imagine how unstable many homes become after time. This building I live in is 60 years old.

    Any regular SFH is likely even more dangerous than this building. How the people here get scammed OVERSPENDING FOR IT, regarding living in unstable housing for EVERYWHERE in the state is beyond me.

    There has been a surge in seismic activity in the area for the last 2 months, I know because of my Quakefeed application. In the last 2 weeks we have had 5 tremors above 2 in the bay area. That may sound weak , but to get them so often will accumulate soil instability over time.

    So you all may think you are safe, but if you haven’t had a recent seismic safety assessment, say the last 4 years, you are likely to be very surprised.

  4. Just an Observation,

    Just understand that cracking and pitting of streets and sidewalks can only occur with unstable ground. Unless the material or the construction is DEFECTIVE, isn’t that so? The real problem is that you have City Inspectors and Real Estate Appraisers only using their eyes on the surface to make OPINIONS. No tools are used for non destructive scanning of material, which has been available since the beginning of 2010s . Their OPINIONS are based on JUNK SCIENCE.

    The facts are the ground is unstable. The Millennium Tower is a PERFECT example. The fact that there is NO scientific devices used like Ground Penetrating Radar to detect the defects in the soil, is done INTENTIONALLY. Because the results would be REQUIRED to be posted to the public, and that would crash the land values of the state of CA.

    Given that all Real Estate Agencies ARE NOT LICENSED INVESTMENT PROFESSIONALS, make all of the so-called Z-estimates, and other values totally without merit. There is no Scientific method used to quantify the value based on REAL RESEARCH of the quality of the land, nor the quality of construction, nor even having a record of all repairs done on a building. In fact by using unscientific analysis for all real estate, it is the biggest BLACK BOX investment anyone could make. There is no validity of any appraisal in the state of CA. I for one would NEVER invest in this market, it is actually worse than a “HOUSE OF CARDS”.

    The facts are at least with CARFAX you can get an unfiltered record of the vehicle history based on the VIN.

    The purchase of a home or building is the most risky purchase you can imagine. And it is ABOUT TIME to force a CARFAX database on all real estate, which WILL permanently correct for the insanity of how REAL ESTATE AGENTS get away with violating the PROFESSION CODE of CA.

    Time for the people here to understand the disaster we are ALL in.

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