EP 31 “Quakeland” The Story of the Moving World with Kathryn Miles
Welcome to EM Weekly. And today, I have a really great guest, her name is Kathryn Miles, and she wrote this book called “Quakeland.” Now, she’s written some other books as well, regarding Superstorm Sandy. But this one here, specifically on earthquakes. And so, since today is the Great Shakeout, we really wanted to have her here and talk about her process of writing the book Quakeland, and what she learned, and what you will learn from reading the book. And I tell you, I read the book, and I learned some things that I haven’t thought about, and it’s really eye opening. So, Kathryn, thank you for being here, and welcome to the show.
[KATHRYN MILES] Hi, I’m really glad to be here.
[TODD DEVOE] So, what made you write Quakeland?
[KATHRYN MILES] Yeah, that’s a really good question. It’s a little bit of a long story, but I’ll try to keep it as short as I can. My previous book, as you mentioned, was Superstorm. And it was looking at the 9 days leading up to Superstorm Sandy, and the decisions that were made, both good and bad. And one of the things that seemed to really resonate with people was this question of infrastructure and preparedness. And you know, as we were wrapping up the book tour, and my editor and I kind of looked at each other, and we said, you know, not enough people are talking about this, either in terms of first response, in terms of emergency management plans, and in terms of both the sort of metaphoric infrastructure and the literal infrastructure. We’re not talking about this with natural disasters in general. And certainly, nobody’s really done a book-long project, looking at this in terms of earthquake and seismic hazard. So, that was literally the impetus for it. In some ways, it was a natural progression from that first book. In other ways, it was a really steep learning curve for me. You know, I think a lot of the aftermath of the two disasters, are really quite similar. We’ve seen that… you know, if you compare, for instance, Puerto Rico and Mexico, there’s some real similarities. But the obvious, sort of like, geophysics behind it, very, very different. So, I definitely had to kind of up my geology (inaudible) on, and you know, sit down, and do Geology 101.
[TODD DEVOE] Yeah, it’s kind of cool to meet… in the book, how you met a couple of the people who are geologists, and how they got into it, and got to learn some of the lingo, if you will, and so, that was kind of cool there too. I have a friend of mine, and she was an emergency manager here in California, she retired and she moved out to Texas. I actually interviewed her about Harvey. And one of the things she stated to me, is she would rather have 100 hurricanes come at her, you know, back to back, I guess, I don’t think at the same time; than have an earthquake. Because that’s the one thing with earthquakes, is we never really have a warning of when it’s gonna occur. And even with Lucy Jones, Dr. Jones out here in California, and she’s really stressing the early warning system, it’s really seconds that we’re learning. You know, maybe up to 45 seconds of knowing when an earthquake is going to occur. And the story that you have regarding the one in Yellowstone, and the family who went to the campground, when they were in another place before, and they went to the camp ground; how was that? How did that affect that family? I mean, I know that two of them, the mom and the dad passed away, and you interviewed the two sisters. How did that affect them through the rest of their life?
[KATHRYN MILES] Yeah. And you know, this is a really… this is a very sort of historic and not well-reported earthquake, and that’s part of why I really wanted to use it as sort of a narrative focus for the first part of the book. And this is what’s generally known as… called the Hebgen Lake Quake. And it was really only a moderate quake, you know? It didn’t even register as one of the 10 biggest in our country. This was in 1957. But for me, it was so emblematic, of why earthquakes are so devastating and so problematic, for many of the reasons that you suggested. And you know, going back real quickly, to my work with Superstorm. You know, I spent a lot of time down at the National Hurricane Center when I was researching that book, and again, and again, and again, the hurricane experts there, who are, without a doubt, the best in the business, would say to me, “Look, we’re just not very good at this. You know? We’re not very good at predicting tracks, we’re not very good at predicting intensity.” And yet, they’re infinitely better at understanding the mechanisms at play in hurricanes, than we are in understanding an earthquake. And part of that is because, you know, literally, when you take a hurricane, we can see it on radar. We can see it from satellites, we have… you know, the Air National Guard, and we have these super souped-up planes, that can drop these mechanisms right into the storm, and record all sorts of data, from wind and barometric pressure, and things like that. And we don’t have that capacity with earthquakes. So, I think your friend… I think I share her sentiment, you know? And so, this particular Hebgen Lake Quake, you know, happened as they all do, frankly, in American time and history; and that is without warning. And you know, what we saw with this earthquake was, we saw a real sort of snowball effect. There was the immediate earthquake, which did a ton of damage. It also created rockslides, landslides, a little tsunami wave. And then we saw this ripple effect start to unfold. Because of this sort of geological orientation of where they were, they were in this sort of river valley; because the phone lines had been knocked out, because basic sort of radio communication was all but impossible, given the valley walls, we saw this real scramble of, you know, trying to get first responders in, trying to get survivors out, trying to get them to hospitals that were prepared. And I think in so many ways, this is an example of what these natural disasters pose for us. And I was really honored to have one of the families, who was really hard-hit by the earthquake, both parents were severely injured; the mother died of the injuries, the father survived, and three daughters went on to really frankly live with their own version of PTSD, and they continued to sort of feel the after effects of that. And so, through their story, I felt like I was able to really personalize earthquakes, and also talk about how it is that… again, a moderate quake, by a lot of accounts, you know, could still do, and will do, so much damage. And damage that we don’t expect.
[TODD DEVOE] If we have that Japanese earthquakes, that the… you know, 9, on a record scale here, in Southern California, it’s predicted that we’re gonna have some serious issues that are associated with water, specifically, getting here. Lucy Jones, again, states that we’re gonna be potentially six months without having any sort of water coming in. And that’s like, the big deal in Southern California. What has your research found as far as, like, the magnitude, and what the real impact is on the population living in those areas?
[KATHRYN MILES] Sure, sure. And we should say, and this may be common place for some of you, listeners. But there are different types of earthquakes, right? And those big 9.8 quakes, like we saw in 2011, that caused the Fukushima nuclear disaster, that’s what’s called a subduction quake. And that’s where we have two types of plates, we have a continental plate, we have an oceanic plate, we have them slipping under. And because they’re so large in the area, they are so massive, those are creating the really biggest quakes that we see on the planet. So, the 1964 Alaska quake, a lot of those Chilean quakes; these are all the subduction quakes. So, a 9.8 quake, we would not see in a place like Los Angeles, because that’s not a subduction zone.
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[KATHRYN MILES] We could very easily see that in a place like the Pacific Northwest. And we have a lot of sort of paleo geological evidence to suggest that there have been repeated quakes that size, and quakes that have created incredibly devastating tsunamis. Tsunamis that would do… really, sort of an unimaginable damage, to everything from Vancouver down to Northern California. So, that potential is very real for that area. But I think that what was really telling for me, in this research, is that it doesn’t take an earthquake nearly that large to do a lot of really serious damage. So, if you look at a place like, for instance, Southern California, where we have the closest thing to sort of mathematical certainty that there will be an earthquake in our life. If you look at a place like New York City, which if you look at the return rate of previous earthquakes over the last 700 years, you know, if you look at those return rates, New York has had a moderate-sized earthquake about every 100 years. And really pretty close to exactly every 100 years. The last one that New York had was 1883, and so, again, this is not a precise science. But you could say that New York is 40 years overdue from a moderate quake. And what emergency managers there told me, was look, even that moderate earthquake in New York would be enough to create more rubble than we saw in September 11. And as you mentioned, with Lucy Jones’ research, she’s just been tireless in her advocacy about this, and I think it’s really wonderful; one of the points that she makes, and one of the points that was really reaffirmed for me, with the other people I talked to for the book is, you know, it’s too easy of a story to say that the damage from an earthquake is a collapsed building. And that’s part of it. But it’s not the whole story. One of the most chilling things is that most of the death and devastation of an earthquake happens because of fires created by the earthquake. And then they’re compromised, because we can’t get the fire department to the fire, because of the rubble. Another thing that I think most people don’t think about is the fact that, you know, if there is a significant earthquake, one of the most chilling things it’s gonna do, is it’s gonna knock down power and cell phone communication. So, we’re not gonna have telephones, we’re not gonna have cell phones, you know? We’re not gonna have ways to communicate, and that not only creates problems for first responders, it also creates problems for families. And you know, we’re seeing that with Maria, in Puerto Rico.
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[KATHRYN MILES] You know, people who, weeks and weeks later, are only now being able to sort of stand up and say, “Hi, we’re here, we’re alive,” to their family in the contiguous US. And so, those are the sort of ripple effect problems that create real challenges for communities.
[TODD DEVOE] Going back to the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, and the reason why the city was devastated was more due to fire than it really was to the earthquake. And I wrong on that? Or is that kind of how I remember reading history wrong?
[KATHRYN MILES] You are absolutely right. And it’s such an important point. And again, it’s one that we don’t tend to talk about a lot. And these shakeout scenarios are still useful for that. And recognizing, I think, and this is really what I wanted to drive home with this book, is yes, it is absolutely a Southern California problem; and it is a very real problem for Southern California. But you know, it’s also a really big problem for places that most Americans don’t think about. You know, and I mentioned the Pacific Northwest, but Pacific Northwest, arguably, has the potential for the largest earthquake that our country might see. And then there are these really surprising places. South Lake City has the potential for an incredibly devastating earthquake. Memphis, which I detail in the book, again, you know, Memphis has a history. 1811, 1812, had a serious of earthquakes that were 8-point-something. We don’t know exactly, but about 8.0, 8.1. Which is bigger, incidentally, than that classic 1906 San Francisco earthquake. And not only is that a problem for places like Memphis and St. Louis, and the Mississippi River Valley, but when you consider the fact that, for instance, over 4 million packages pass through Memphis every night, because of UPS and FedEx. When you consider the fact that about 35% to 40% of our trucking transportation passes (inaudible) crosses the Mississippi by Memphis, you know, that becomes not just a regional problem; it also becomes a national, and potentially, an international problem. And that’s really what I want people to think about. Is a microlevel problem for a family and household, it’s a problem for a community, and it’s really also a global problem when one of these disasters strikes.
[TODD DEVOE] Look at Japan. I mean, when that one striked, I mean, this definitely was a global issue, and it still is today, right? Just due to some of the logistical aspect of things coming out of Japan. And not to mention the nuclear power plant. One of the things I find interesting is, talking about faults, and faults that we know, that are mapped. But the geologists are saying that the things that scare them the most are the faults that they don’t know. How to they find new faults, do you know?
[KATHRYN MILES] Yeah. Slowly. You know, I mentioned earlier, you know, the hurricane experts at the National Hurricane Center saying, “We’re not very good at this, and there’s so much that we don’t know.” And one of the things that I sort of start the book off with is that, you know, to the very last, every geologist, every geophysicist, every seismologist that I interviewed for this book, just kept saying, “We don’t really know what happens below the ground!” And when you think about it, you know, these earthquakes are happening 5 miles below the surface, 30 miles below the surface of the earth. And because we don’t know where the next one is going to be, we can’t anticipate it and get all these devices there. It’s only now, really, that we’re starting to develop technologies using GPS, GIS, you know… some sophisticated sort of flight-based mapping techniques that we’re able to start to kind of find faults. And obviously, it’s very resource-dependent. So, as I say in the book, we have 21,000 known faults in the United States. The experts at the USGS tell me that there are, undoubtfully, exponentially more faults in the US. Most of the faults that we know about, of those 21,000, are West of the Rockies. Part of that is because of the geology there, and because, you know, there’s a lot of seismic activity there. But a lot of it is because we haven’t mapped what is East of the Rockies. And so, you know, they caution that it would be a very dangerous proposition to assume that just because we haven’t found the faults East of the Rockies, to assume that they’re not there. And one of the really sort of stark facts that I learned when I was writing the book was the fact that, you know, every major earthquake in the US has happened on a fault that we didn’t know about…
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[KATHRYN MILES] Prior to that earthquake. And you know, and I should say, that includes earthquakes in California. People think that San Andreas is one fault that runs through California, but it’s not. It’s a fault zone. And within that fault zone, you think about, sort of like, the circulatory system. All of these veins, and arteries, and capillaries, that’s a good analogy for this fault zone. So, we may know where these main arteries are, in the San Andreas fault zone, but we’re finding those new capillaries all of the time. And they are also capable of creating an earthquake.
[TODD DEVOE] Well yeah, and I mean, the North Ridge earthquake, for example, that was an unnamed fault before that occurred. And so much so, that they kept asking all the seismologists at Caltech, you know, “What’s the name of the fault? What’s the name of the fault?” And Lucy Jones stated one time that – it’s funny I keep back to Lucy, but she’s… you know, she’s our go-to person. You know, she says in this interview, she goes, “I almost wanted to call it ‘Fred’, just so people stopped asking what the name of the fault was.”
[KATHRYN MILES] And I think that’s one reason why Lucy Jones is sort of the godmother of this work. And one of the things I love about Lucy Jones, is not only is she one of the smartest people on the planet, but she’s able to take this incredible expertise that she has and make it real for the general public. And I think that that’s so important. You know, it’s one thing to be an expert and be talking to other experts. But I think one of the responsibilities we really have is to be able to take that knowledge and make it meaningful for the general public.
[TODD DEVOE] She does a really great job at that. I’ve been on a few panels with her, it’s always hard to follow her when she talks, because she makes things that I really kind of wonky sound like everybody can understand them. And that’s a great skill to have. Speaking of getting wonky, we’re talking about a few chapters here in the book. Just about how our world is made and what the crust really looks like, and the whole idea of the chapter, of our floating world. How long did it take you to really get into that and to really understand exactly how our crust is made, and why we are floating and moving the way we are?
[KATHRYN MILES] Well, you know, one of the things that is really remarkable to me is just how new of a science this really is. And that was a big surprise for me. You know, I was born in 1974, and you know, in my lifetime, is really when this notion of plate tectonic sort of gained scientific acceptability and certainty. And you know, I mean, maybe I’m not a spring chicken, but you know, that’s not a lot of time to pass. And really through the 1960’s and 1970’s, we debated this notion of plate tectonics, this idea that there were, in fact, these different types of plates, that they were in movement. So, one of the things that I talk about in the book is how this came to be. It was an incredible debate that goes back, you know, centuries, pushed forward. And it was because of a lot of folks that (inaudible) things like, you know, oceanic crust, oceanic floor. Some really fascinating coring work that was being done to try to sort of date the age of different places in the ocean’s crust, that we were able to sort of understand how it is that we have this incredible volatility that happens, as we have movement and friction, and also as we have this constant sort of re-circulating old crust becoming new crust, becoming magma. I kind of lightened it to a pot of minestrone soup…
[TODD DEVOE] Yes.
[KATHRYN MILES] On the stove.
[TODD DEVOE] I think that’s a really good analogy, actually, the whole minestrone soup thing. So, two things. One is, the first earthquake that I ever felt, and I lived on a street that had… trucks drove down a lot. And sometimes the truck would bounce and the windows would shake. And I remember one morning, I thought maybe it was like, a large truck doing something there, and our window struck a little bit louder than normal. And I found out that it was a little 4-point-something earthquake. Like you’re saying earlier on the new book, that you know, your first earthquake that you felt was uneventful. It seems to be that way for most of us, until we have the eventful earthquake. I guess the reason why I’m kind of going back here a little bit, is that those little small, uneventful earthquakes, have they ever been proven, or do they ever move into a more eventful earthquake? Like, I guess, a pre-quake if you will?
[KATHRYN MILES] That is such a great question. And that is the big question right now, for geophysicists. And I think the answer, the tentative answer is, we think sometimes, yes. And if that sounds like some kind of qualified double-speak, it is. And we know that some of these little quakes are what is called “precursory action,” right? They’re the sort of fore-shock type events. And in some cases, geophysicists and seismologists feel fairly certain about that. So, the most recent Chilean earthquake, there was this rumbling, these small quakes that you are describing, that happened prior to that. And two scientists, at UC Santa Cruz, Thorne Lay and Emily Brodsky, published a paper in which they were able to sort of accurately, not predict, but forecast, I guess, it’s a better word; that this rumbling that they were seeing, in that Chilean earthquake, was precursory action for this much larger quake. The problem right now, is we don’t know when small quakes are just small quakes, and when they’re this precursory foreshock rumblings. And then to further complicate things, we also have evidence that small quakes can actually set up larger quakes. And not just in the same vicinity. So, for instance, a small quake somewhere in the San Andreas fault zone, could shift the pressure such that it could create another quake, tens or even 100 miles away from that quake. And how that works is still really a big mystery. Again, in terms of geophysics. And that, I think, is why all of this unknowability is why it’s so important for all of us to really just be so prepared. Because it’s not gonna be the case, as you mentioned earlier. You can’t forecast it, days in advance, like you can in a hurricane. I grew up in the Midwest, where, you know, in Tornado Alley, where… you know, you would get at least 10 minutes of warning about a tornado, which was plenty of time to get down into the basement. We have a potential for an early warning system in the US, we have the capability for that. We haven’t funded it yet, but as you said earlier, it would probably give us, say, 30 seconds, 45 seconds. Still really important, to absolutely, absolutely invest in that, and we would undoubtedly save lives with it. 30 seconds, 45 seconds, as you said, you know, it’s not an optimal amount of time for preparation, right? And so, with all of that in mind, you know, it’s really beholden upon all of these communities to assume that the big one is possible, to assume that the big one may happen in our lifetime, and not to respond to that with sort of fear and you know, chaos. But rather, to respond with good planning.
[TODD DEVOE] And back to the early warning system, I do agree that it’s a very important thing that we should be investing in. Because, even if it was just that 30 to 45 seconds, if we could get something that would stop elevators, and stop trains, you know, that’s enough to save lives right there. It worked in Japan, it did. So, it can work here in the United States as well, we just need to definitely get the funding into that. Obviously, today, the Grate Shakeout. It used to be called the Great California Shakeout. Now, rightfully so, just the Great Shakeout, which we do nationwide, and worldwide for that matter. Mark Benton, from USC, is doing a great job pushing that information out. My son, through kindergarten, all the way up, has been learned about… you know, duck, cover, and hold. We had a pre-quake one day, it was a little 3-somehing that hit, shuck the windows. And then, a couple hours later, we have a little more significant of an earthquake, which was like, a 5.5. And again, everybody goes, “Oh yeah, 5.5 is nothing.” But this one felt like it was right underneath our house. I mean, the walls are shaking, the water is slushing out of the pool, you know, things are falling off the shelf. And he knew, instinctively, to go underneath a coffee table in the middle of our living room. And at the time, my daughter was two, and brought her underneath the table as well. And I think things like that, preparing the kids at that age, that’s gonna save lives as well. And I really think that, as emergency managers, and those of us that are in this business, should really be preaching earthquake preparedness. Not just in California, not just in Oregon, not just in Washington. But nationwide. Because you’re right, if we have the moderate earthquake go off, or if we have those earthquakes go off in other parts of the country, kids need to know what to do. Adults need to do what to do, and not to live in fear, but to live in preparation for this thing that’s inevitably gonna happen in our lifetime. So, I do agree with you on that. Sorry, I was on my (inaudible) for a little bit.
[KATHRYN MILES] No, no, no, no. It’s my (inaudible), too! And can we just pause and give your son a gold start for knowing exactly what to do in that situation? That’s amazing! And when you look at, for instance, the recent Mexico quake; you know, it happened on the anniversary of the horrendous 1985 earthquake. And right after the quake, a few things happened. Mexico started the first national early warning system, which worked well that day. And Mexico also started a national drill program, where every year, on the anniversary of that quake, people drill about what to do, regardless of the circumstances that they’re in. And the fact that that drilling happens every year, the fact that coincidently, it happened on the same day they had been drilling, that saved lives!
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[KATHRYN MILES] You know, growing up in the Midwest, I remember really well when, in the last 80’s, people started to really pay attention to the (inaudible). We went from just doing the fire drills and the tornado drills, to also doing the earthquake drills. And that’s the kind of thing that we all need to be doing.
[TODD DEVOE] Yeah. I agree with you. Hey, two things about Mexico. One is, Mexico also, because of the 1985 earthquake, that’s one of the reasons why CERT started in California, (inaudible) the Mexican earthquake. And you know, that CERT program has grown exponentially since then, and I think it’s a really well-worth program. Even if people don’t wanna become volunteers in the CERT program, it’s really good training just for your stuff at your home, so that’s one thing. And kind of piggy-back in the other question I had, with the Mexican earthquake, the Mexico City earthquake, did the earthquake in Southern Mexico trigger that one as well? Have they figured that out, or is that still kind of unknown to science?
[KATHRYN MILES] It’s unknown. The seismologists that I’ve spoken to say they think it’s unlikely, because of the time and the distance. But we can’t say for certain. I think what they would say is, look, we’ll probably never gonna know exactly whether or not it was caused, and that’s all the more reason sort of to be prepared. And what you’re saying, about this idea of sort of… (inaudible) action, I think it’s so important. Whether it’s citizen science, or whether it’s that preparedness. Some of the best work that I felt like I did, researching this book, was meeting with emergency managers in places like the Pacific Northwest, and watching the way in which they were educating communities, and helping communities to educate themselves. And there’s also incredible innovation that’s happening right now, that has people… again, serving citizen scientists, you know, by enabling their smartphones to record data and things like that. They can provide much needed data. And I think that that’s really the wave of the future, is recognizing that we all can play this incredibly useful role, that we don’t have to wait for first responders. I mean, that we can in fact do things to keep ourselves safe, make ourselves more resilient, and frankly, even participate in the science and the research, as it’s happening. I think that’s both empowering for people, and I think it’s also a way to really sort of democratize this, in a way that’s meaningful.
[TODD DEVOE] I think that, once you are ready, you’re participating, whether you are using your smartphone as a reader for the earthquake that’s going on, or you’re prepared because you know that you’re gonna be able to go out and help your community, it takes that fear of the disaster away. And I think that saves lives as well.
[KATHRYN MILES] Yeah. You know, and fear is such a tricky thing, you know? To a certain degree, a healthy fear sparks action, right? But I think the problem becomes when fear becomes sensational, or inflammatory, or paralyzing. And so, I don’t know what a better word is than fear, but maybe something like respect, you know? I remember when I interviewed a Coast Guard officer, for my work on the Superstorm book. And he said, one of my very favorite quotes of all time, he said, “Mother nature plays to win, and she’ll beat you every time.” And I think if we acknowledge that, and we look at Mother Nature with, you know, sort of respect and reverence, and we recognize that the best option we have is to be prepared for what she has in store. You know, maybe that’s not fear, but it’s certainly… it’s respect, or it’s caution, or it’s something like that.
[TODD DEVOE] I like the idea of respect, moving things cautiously. Because… not on that topic of the earthquake, but kind of going back to the storms, I was talking to Craig Fugate, and we were discussing choosing where to build your home, with knowledge of what the landscape is and can do, and what it can’t do, you know? And we see a lot of people building homes on a mangrove, in the woods in Florida. And when these big storms come in, we’re surprised… we’re not, but people are surprised when, you know, these homes are flooded out and destroyed, and the thousands of millions of dollars that are spent in rebuilding them through insurance and whatnot. And I think the same thing with earthquakes. If we can have an idea of how to build, for them, respect the fact that it’s going to occur, and how we can build homes that are gonna be sustainable and resilient to the shaking. And you know, I think that right there, can number one, save lives; number two, save structures; and number three, make people not as vulnerable to the changes of nature. What do you think of that?
[KATHRYN MILES] I think that’s so great. And you said two of my very favorite words there, you know. I’ve been an environmental studies professor since 2001, and much of my work has been focused on this notion of sustainability. And I’m utterly committed to sustainability in every sense of the word, but I like this word, resilient, better. Than (inaudible). And I think that if we look at what, for instance, emergency managers are telling us, in terms of what we needed to be doing for our communities, this idea of building a resilient community, it becomes not just a defense of posture, right? It’s not just “We’re gonna build our home, or we’re gonna build our community so that we’re prepared for the next natural disaster.” It is that. But it’s also saying, “We’re gonna build a more vibrant community, we’re gonna build a community that withstands any kind of adversity better. We’re gonna build a community that communicates and has plans, that has contingency plans in place, where people are ready to help.” And we all win in that case, whether or not the natural disaster ever strikes.
[TODD DEVOE] One of the things that I really, I’m a proponent of, is when we’re doing our plans, as emergency managers, include the community in that. Sometimes, it’s frustrating, right? Because we’ll go out and we’ll have these great community meetings, and we’ll bring groups in to talk about our plans and to be inclusive with them. And sometimes, we can’t get anybody to show up to these meetings, because you know, everybody’s busy, and it’s not important to them. And one of the things I told one of my students one time, I said, “You know, we can’t be frustrated by these, and we have to keep doing these, because it’s important when it becomes important. And if you can show that you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, involving the community, they can never say that they weren’t brought in.” That’s one of the frustrations as an emergency manager, is how do we encourage community participation? And I do that through community groups like CERT, going and talking to the Red Cross volunteer groups, going and talking to the HAM operators, with the (inaudible) programs. And you know, I’m building these bridges with people that are already interested in disaster response and community itself, and making those people a part of the solution and doing our neighbor for neighbor programs, where we have neighborhoods now that are preparing and taking care of each other, because we tend not to do that anymore here, and again, it’s building that community. And then the next time, when I have to do a plan, and I wanna bring the community in, I already have a built-up group of people that are preparing, and are gonna come and give good input, and share that information with their neighbors. So, I think that’s really important, that we do build a resilient community. Not just emergency managers, or first responders, that know what to do, that we go down to that local level, and build that community from the ground up.
[KATHRYN MILES] That is so great. And you know, I don’t envy you, but your work is so important on that front. And you know, when I was doing research for both of these books, I talked to a really wonderful scholar of risk and risk management at the University of Oregon, named Paul Slovak, and he runs the Risk Center. And you know, he said, “Look, I’ve done a ton of research on this subject,” and he said, “If you ask the average American what is the biggest risk they face on a daily basis, they’ll tell you it’s either… you know, nuclear disaster or terrorist attack,” right? And you know, and your listeners know, that those fall really far down the list of potential problems. And then things like car accidents, and house problems, and frankly, natural disasters. And yet, as a culture, we have such a lack of imagination for those. One of the most chilling facts for me, when I was researching Superstorm, was the fact that in New York and New Jersey, over 70% of the people ordered to evacuate in the face of that storm didn’t evacuate. Because they didn’t believe it was actually gonna be a problem.
[TODD DEVOE] Right.
[KATHRYN MILES] And then how we find a way to create this paradigm shift? And how we find a way to actually, as a culture, and as a society, say the threat of natural disaster is real. You know, we need to be empowering emergency managers to create robust plans, we need to be internalizing those plans. Until we do that, (inaudible) the task again, and again, and again. Thank goodness, right? Because you keep people like me safe, every day.
[TODD DEVOE] You know, we try. I kind of chuckle, because it’s such the frustration for us, is to get the word out. And when we make the decision, and when I say “we”, it’s a collective we, with whoever is up in the emergency operation center at the time, with the fire, and police, and of course, emergency management, of evacuation, it’s not never ever, a decision that’s taken lightly, and we go through that process. I don’t know if you’ve watched the fire storms that are going out there. But in Napa, a whole entire community was burned. And people didn’t… some people didn’t leave, and we’re still not sure how many deaths occurred up there because they decided to stay (inaudible). So yeah, it is a frustrating point, is to try to get that evacuation. And then we go over and over again, look at Katrina, look at Harvey, look at… you know, Superstorm Sandy. Those things, where we have asked people to leave, and they stay. And it just puts everybody at risk. It’s a hard decision, I understand, but we don’t make that call lightly.
[KATHRYN MILES] Yeah, and that’s really, you know, where I feel like that kind of partnership between the work that people like I do, and the work that people like you do, can do. I remember I once was talking to a woman who was this very famous ecologist, and she said, you know, “I wish every scientist had a journalist or an environmental writer in their pocket.” You know? And so, if I can tell your story in a way that compels people to, for instance, have a “go-bag.” If I can tell your story in a way that makes people notice an evacuation sign when they see it, or make sure they don’t have anything, you know, above their bed, then I feel like I’ve done my job. And so, I feel like my job is to sit with very patient people like you, very patient scientists and emergency managers, who are willing to break everything down for me, again, and again, and again. And then, you know, if I can take that and find a way to tell it as a narrative, that people will pick up and buy in an airplane or read on a beach, then maybe collectively, we can get the word out in a way that actually sort of, you know, changes hearts and minds.
[TODD DEVOE] Kathryn, thank you so much for being with us today. And again, here on the Great Shakeout. Hopefully everybody participated in their drill today, or it helped people participate in a drill. Everybody, I really recommend this book, it’s Kathryn Miles’ Quakeland. You can get it anywhere you can buy your books. I’ll put a link to it here, at the bottom of the show notes here. And Kathryn, normally I ask what book do you recommend for anybody who is in this business, and obviously we’re gonna recommend Quakeland today. That being said, if you’re interested in Superstorm Sandy, she has a book with that, too. So, I recommend looking at both of those. So, Kathryn, anything else you wanna say before we say goodbye?
[KATHRYN MILES] I just, you know, without running the risk of pandering, I just wanna say thank you, and thank you to your listeners for the work that you all do. Honestly, I have so much respect. And like I said, if I can do a little piece to kind of get the word out about the incredibly important work that you do, then I feel really happy with the job that I’ve done.
[TODD DEVOE] Well, thank you so much for being here, have a wonderful day.
[KATHRYN MILES] Thank you so much!
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