Cable Show: In California, Bracing for the Big One

On March 28, a 5.1-magnitude earthquake rattled buildings and nerves in the Los Angeles area.

The quake, centered in Orange County near La Habra, was the second significant tremor in a very short period of time. Less than two weeks prior, a 4.4 quake with an epicenter in Westwood sent news anchors on
KTLA-TV scrambling for cover while live on the air. The mayor and emergency officials used the events, which thankfully caused no deaths or significant damage, to remind L.A. residents and visitors to be prepared.

“This [La Habra quake] is not a big earthquake, but it should cause everyone to take some actions,” Keith Knudsen, who studies earthquakes with the U.S. Geological Survey and is based out of Menlo Park, Calif, said. “Almost everybody has something more they can do … the fraction of people who have really prepared is pretty low.”

Let’s be honest: the chance of a major earthquake hitting during the three days of The Cable Show are not great (knock on wood). But it’s never a bad thing to know the protocols out of an abundance of caution.

California school children grow up knowing the basic tenets of “drop, cover and hold on.” Drop Cover Hold On ( is the URL for the Southern California Earthquake Center’s website. And if you remember anything in the event of a quake, let it be that.

Grabbing on to a desk in an office building or hotel room furniture until the shaking stops will help protect against falling debris, Knudsen said.

“The most frequent injury in California is from falling objects or trying to run,” Dr. Lucy Jones, USGS seismologist and science adviser on seismic safety to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, recently
wrote in a Reddit chat on earthquakes.

In newer buildings, falling debris is a much bigger concern than collapse. Los Angeles-area codes started to require strong earthquake resistance infrastructure in the 1970s, according to Knudsen, while those built after 1997 were required to meet the safest code requirements yet.

Local cable operators also have emergency plans, knowing that any disruption in service during a disaster would not only be a nuisance but could also potentially deprive the public of vital information.

“We’ve got programs in place, as do other MSOs and other companies similar to ours,” Time Warner Cable director of enterprise business continuity and crisis management Joe Viens said. 

Forecasting earthquakes is a famously inexact science, but most geologists agree the chance of a significant quake in the next 30 years somewhere in California is very good.

The chance of an earthquake equaling the 1994 Northridge quake that claimed nearly 60 lives and registered a 6.7 on the Richter scale is close to 100% over the next 30 years, according to Knudsen. He says the chance of a 7.5 or bigger in Southern California is near 60%.

“We look at evidence of when the past earthquakes have occurred,” Knudsen said. “We’re well within the average time span when you’d have big earthquakes … No one would be surprised if the San Andreas produced a big earthquake in Southern California tomorrow.”