Arizona makes preparations in the event of catastrophic earthquake

PHOENIX, Ariz. (KSAZ) - What would you do in the event of a catastrophic earthquake along the San Andreas Fault? What would Arizona do? Would we be affected and how could we help? Fox 10's Matt Galka explains the plans in place if the unthinkable happened.

"The big one." It's the worst case scenario for people on the West Coast and Southern California, a powerful magnitude seven or greater earthquake near the San Andreas Fault could leave unthinkable damage in its wake.

"It could happen, it actually will happen," said Dr. Michael Conway.

Dr. Michael Conway is a Senior Research Scientist with the Arizona Geological Survey at the University of Arizona. They've been tracking earthquake activity in and around the state for more than 100 years.

"Do we have earthquakes in Arizona? The answer is yeah," said Dr. Conway. "We probably record in our seismic network 100 to 125 events annually, most of those are not felt, but every couple times a year they are."

This map is an animated showing of the seismic activity. The flashes show the Earth has always been moving over the years, but catastrophe has been averted recently. Dr. Conway says that won't be the case forever.

"We're going to see some collapses. We're going to ses some road systems collapse, we're not ready, but we're getting ready," said Dr. Conway.

Part of getting ready means practicing. Dr. Conway and his team provided data to the state's Department of Emergency and Military Affairs for an annual drill that took place earlier this year.

When we think of the big one, we think of the impact on places like Los Angeles, but the fallout would have far reaching impacts on Arizona too.

"What we simulated in that exercise is a large scale earthquake that occurred in Southern California that would spur the migration of many people evacuating California into or through Arizona," explained Dr. Conway.

Wendy Smith-Reeve is the department's Deputy Director. Even if Arizona didn't sustain damage during "the big one" we'd need to be ready to help.

"If people were going to be traveling through or to their communities, they need to be ready to support those needs," said Wendy Smith-Reeve.

If a real emergency happened, the state's Emergency Operations Center would be buzzing, trying to help both here and California.

"You're looking at fuel, you want to make sure people have enough fuel in their vehicles to migrate to their end destinations," said Smith-Reeve. "You're also going to have healthcare for those people along the way, you want to make sure you have shelters for those people set up to support those individuals once they get to their final destination or an interim destination."

And what would you do if you were caught in the quake? For many, fear takes over, and the instinct is to run.

"Most people when they feel that ground shaking they want to move away from that," explained Dr. Conway. "Obviously you can't move away from it because the ground is shaking all around you."

The good news is unless you're in a very old building, it probably won't collapse.

"The earthquake preparedness drill, the best thing you can do in the event of severe ground shaking is drop, cover and hold on," says Dr. Conway. "Get underneath something, if you're inside, protect your head and body, most buildings aren't going to collapse."

Experts say the statement that the big one is coming, isn't meant to scare anyone. Being prepared is everyone's best bet: non perishable food, water, radios and walkie talkies will help you and your family.

The bad news is the uncertainty. We don't know when it will happen, but it will.

"If you're living around the coast you have tsunami issues," said Dr. Conway. "It's very difficult to be prepared for things that only happen once and a while. That's what we're up against, trying to excite the public and learn some basic skills to try and keep themselves safe."