A Seismologist’s Earthquake Experience

Question: Have you ever experienced an earthquake personally?

Arthur Lerner-Lam:  Yeah, you know it’s the rare seismologist who hasn’t experienced an earthquake.  We call them theoreticians by the way, but yeah, I’ve experienced earthquakes, nothing larger than about a magnitude 6, and of course I’ve been in aftershock zones where magnitude fours and fives are fairly frequent and you take steps to deal with it, but it’s very difficult for me to imagine what it would be like in an 8.8.  I mean we… or even a 7.0 that was a direct hit.  I personally feel fortunate that I haven’t been in that, and I sometimes joke with my colleagues that’s why I work in New York and not in California, but on the other hand you know we understand earthquakes in the abstract and the visceral feel of an earthquake is something that perhaps might contribute to the conversation we need to have with the public and maybe there ought to be a program to get a lot of seismologists into earthquake zones so they can understand what it is like.  I’m only half facetious there, but to experience an earthquake is to know what it means to somebody who may not be a seismologist, who has a house that has just been destroyed, who has a livelihood that has disappeared and has a government that is in shambles, and maybe all we can do is extrapolate, but I think it’s something necessary to think about.

Arthur Lerner-Lam has been through quakes, but never big ones. He wonders whether the "visceral feel" of a major shakeup should be a required part of every seismologist’s training.

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