Shaking off complacency

April 3, 2014 

Lucy Jones' visibility has increased but her earthquake mantra remains the same: be prepared.

Like countless Angelenos, I’ve been a Lucy Jones fan for years.

When it comes to earthquakes, no one conveys information more accessibly—or calms rattled nerves more quickly—than the plain-talking seismic scientist from Caltech. I can still vividly remember the way my family was glued to Jones’ televised briefings in the wake of the deadly Northridge earthquake, which had delivered a powerful jolt to our house and psyches.

In recent days, you’ve probably seen a lot of Jones, more than at any time since that 1994 temblor. She’s been called upon by news organizations here and abroad to put into perspective our recent earthquakes, including last Friday’s magnitude 5.1 near La Habra. As she told The New York Times the other day: “The last 17 years has been the quietest time we’ve seen. Maybe we’re starting to turn back to more normal levels.”

I suspect that for many of you in the post-Northridge generation, this is probably the first time you’ve really felt the earth shake and looked to Jones for answers and reassurance. In fact, Jones became an overnight sensation last weekend after opening her @DrLucyJones Twitter account  largely because of followers who were likely still in grade school, or not even born yet, when the Northridge quake hit.

Intrigued by front page headlines like this one in the Los Angeles Daily News—“Scientist charms the Twittersphere”—I scrolled through her Twitter postings to see what insights she was offering her new generation of followers in the space of 144 characters. Of course, she was right on message, as this exchange of tweets showed:

@Joolsthebest: “Are we going to have a bigger earthquake…?

@DrLucyJones: “If I could tell you when the next EQ was going to be, I’d be a lot richer than I am. You need to be ready all the time.”

Jones has rightly seized on our recent spate of earthquakes as a teachable moment in her crusade to shake the public (especially you younger folks) of denial and complacency. The time to prepare, she preaches to all who’ll listen, is now—before we’re walloped by a far more destructive seismic event.

Her suggestions are simple. First, she recommends visiting the website of the Earthquake County Alliance, which offers suggestions on how to prepare, survive and recover from an earthquake. Among the proactive measures she says you can take today: secure moveable items; create a disaster plan and decide how you’ll communicate; organize disaster supplies in convenient locations, and minimize financial hardships by organizing important documents and strengthening property.

From personal experience I’d also highly recommend keeping a pair of slippers by the bed. After the Northridge quake, our young, barefoot daughter was lucky not to cut her feet on the shattered glass strewn throughout the house as she came running into our bedroom.

And, remember, when the quake strikes, “drop, cover and hold on.”

That’s exactly what KTLA news anchors Chris Schauble and Megan Henderson did on the morning of March 17, when a 4.1 quake struck on the Westside. As the studio shook, both ducked under their desk. “Earthquake, we’re having an earthquake,” Schauble exclaimed while taking cover.

In the hours and days that followed, Schauble took a beating. His reaction and facial expressions were ridiculed across the Web; a YouTube clip of the incident has been viewed more than 14 million times. But leave it to Jones to cut through the uncharitable chatter. For her, this was another teachable moment. At a press conference on the quake, she said she was “very proud” of the anchors for protecting themselves. “That is absolutely the right thing to do.”

These days, Jones’ responsibilities have moved well beyond her job at Caltech and the U.S. Geological Survey. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti recently tapped her for a year-long appointment as a special advisor to draw up an earthquake preparedness plan for the city. And I’ve recruited her as an unpaid consultant for Metro on seismic issues relating to subway tunneling under Beverly Hills.

But thanks to social media, she’s now reaching a vast new audience with her message of individual disaster readiness—and reconnecting with some appreciative fans from earlier times.

“Thank you for always putting my mind at scientific ease after quakes,” one young woman posted on Jones’ Facebook page. “ I have been listening to your advice since I was a child, I even quoted you in science reports!”

Here’s hoping that, like me, you’re following that advice, too.

Posted 4/3/14

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