How to survive the Cascadia Earthquake? Tips from seismologist Lucy Jones, ‘the Beyoncé of earthquakes’

[Seattle Times] For three decades, seismologist Lucy Jones soothed the nerves of quake-rattled Californians with her calm explanations and common-sense preparedness tips. Her frequent media appearances, including some with her toddler cradled on her hip, earned her a level of celebrity unprecedented among earthquake scientists since Charles Richter lent his name to the first earthquake scale.
“She’s been called the Beyoncé of earthquakes, the Meryl Streep of government service, a woman breaking barriers in a man’s world,” the Los Angeles Times wrote in 2016 when Jones retired from the U.S. Geological Survey.
Now director of the Dr. Lucy Jones Center for Science and Society, the pioneering researcher and communicator’s latest mission is helping cities boost their ability to bounce back from natural disasters by applying science in a way that makes a difference.
Jones got a taste of what it takes to spark political action during a temporary stint as Los Angeles’ earthquake “czar.” She helped create a gripping earthquake scenario to spell out what’s at stake and worked with politicians, building owners and affordable-housing advocates to push through the nation’s most aggressive seismic regulations requiring upgrades to dangerous buildings and other infrastructure.
On Monday, Jones will make her pitch for better quake preparedness in the Pacific Northwest at a free, public lecture at the University of Washington. In a Q&A with The Seattle Times (edited for clarity and brevity), she discussed topics ranging from our dread of earthquakes to why modern building codes aren’t as great as most people think, and how scientists have bungled explanations of earthquake risk.
Question: California has the country’s highest earthquake risk, but Washington is second. What’s your message for us?
Answer: You in many ways have a more challenging problem because you have fewer everyday earthquakes to bring the issue to public attention.
The concept of normalization bias (which causes people to underestimate the likelihood of a disaster and its effects) is a very strong thing in the human psyche. We’re clearly evolved to focus on more immediate threats and we need stories, we need emotional connections to understand why we need to take action.
Earthquakes are very difficult to plan for because of those reasons, especially if you don’t remember the last time you had one. In very quiet times, it’s very hard to get people engaged.
For a policymaker to decide it’s worthwhile spending money on this when you have competing claims of homelessness and other problems, you need an emotional reason to connect and relate to your constituents and scientists don’t understand that.
Q: What’s wrong with the way scientists communicate earthquake risk?
A: As scientists, we explicitly refuse to use stories. One of the favorite lines is: The plural of anecdote is not data.
When we did the ShakeOut scenario in California, we worked to make it a story, we made a movie out of it, the public fact sheet was written as a narrative.
We did not focus on probability. Talking about the probability of an earthquake in some time frame focuses on the part of the problem we don’t know the answer to. When you talk about the uncertainty, people can find a reason to think it won’t happen. Read More

Popular Posts