childs drawing of the letter K


Earthquakes are feared out of proportion to the risk they actually present. Many people are afraid of dying in an earthquake but, in fact, earthquakes are a much greater threat to our pocketbooks than to our lives. In California modern building codes are "life-safety" codes (intended to prevent collapse of a building that would kill people) but accepting that in the more severe earthquakes, even modern buildings will be damaged. Thus, our worst modern earthquake killed only about 60 people (much less than 10% of the number murdered each year in Los Angeles) but did $20 billion in damage.

In Los Angeles, your chances of dying in a traffic accident or of being murdered far exceed your chances of dying in an earthquake. In preparing for earthquakes, we need to continue our efforts to protect lives but also work harder to reduce the financial impact of these events.

It is often difficult to determine exactly how many people were killed in an earthquake because of deaths from heart attacks. In the January 17, 1994 Northridge earthquake, 35 people died from physical trauma during the event. Another 25 deaths from heart attacks have been attributed to the earthquake because the heart attacks occurred during or immediately after the earthquake. However, an average of 140 heart attacks occur every day in the Los Angeles region so it is unclear whether the earthquake shortened these lives by more than a few minutes or days.