Quake predictor can help you plan for the next 'big one'

DAVIS - If you've ever wondered about the earthquake risk in your area and the damage your home might suffer -- yes, there is an app for that.

"This week we've had thousands of visits a day to the website," UC Davis professor of physics and geology John Rundle said.

Rundle and a colleague co-founded OpenHazards.com, dedicated to the issue of earthquake safety and preparedness. The website is based on an earthquake prediction model that uses the Gutenberg-Richter Frequency Relation to estimate when new quakes may happen, using previous earthquake activity.

"So what we do is, we use small earthquakes to forecast big earthquakes," Rundle said.

You can use the website to estimate the probability of a quake of a given size in your area and the damage it might cause to your home. It provides a good idea of whether earthquake insurance might be a good investment.

For example, if you log onto the website and put a roughly 60 mile circle around the Napa area that just had a 6.1 magnitude quake on Sunday, you can learn there's a 14 percent chance of a 5.0 earthquake within a year; a 75 percent chance of a 3.0 within a year in that circle and a two percent chance of a 6.0 quake in the next year.

By somewhat elongating the area to the north and south you find, "(A) 50 percent chance within three years of a 6.0 somewhere in that blue region," Rundle said.

Damage estimates are based on the strength of the earthquake you model, and the age of the home or structure and type of construction.

The app is free and is also available only for iPhones by the name Quakeworks.

Rundle makes it clear that predicting quakes can be a relatively inexact science, especially using only fault lines as a predictor.

"One can be 50 years after another and then you might go 300 years," Rundle said.

But he calls his website, that uses previous quake activity, a "quick and dirty" way to get a reasonable idea of the risks you face. And make no mistake about it, California is earthquake country.

"California is just cut with faults," Rundle said.


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