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Southland businesses urged to get ready for 'The Big One' -- a 7.8 earthquake

June 21, 2011 |  3:03 pm

I4tv0nkf "The Big One," a massive earthquake rippling down the San Andreas fault, would potentially cripple Southern California’s economy and deal a severe blow to millions of workers and hundreds of thousands of businesses, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Modeling the effects of a magnitude 7.8 earthquake, the likes of which has not been felt in Southern California since the 1850s but which geologists believe is overdue, the study parsed the region into areas of vulnerability including zones expected to experience either "very strong" or "destructive" shaking.

By comparison, the 1971 Sylmar earthquake was a magnitude 6.6 and the 1994 Northridge earthquake was a magnitude 6.7.

The bureau's study showed that there are roughly 430,000 businesses and 4.5 million workers within the zones that would likely be hardest hit, primarily within Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties. The region generates $206.5 million in annual wages.

"The overall health of our community after the event would depend on how well all of our businesses are able to respond," said Lucy Jones, a seismologist at the U.S. Geological Survey whose work mapping earthquake scenarios buttressed the report. "If you are a business and you feel an obligation to your employees, the issue is not just will they die -- probably they will not -- but will you be able to provide a job to your employees? You probably want to fulfill that obligation."

Speaking at a news conference, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics regional commissioner Richard Holden said the study highlighted the need for businesses to focus on bringing workplace buildings up to code and on planning for worst-case scenarios in case supply chains are cut and transportation and utilities are disrupted.

The study did not predict the amount of economic losses, but a 2008 report by the Geological Survey estimated losses after a massive Southern California quake would be about $213 billion.

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-- Kurt Streeter

Photo: The San Andreas, San Jacinto and Elsinore faults create a dangerous earthquake region in Southern California. Credit: Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times

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