USGS Rolls Out Groundbreaking Earthquake Study: The HayWired Earthquake Scenario

USGS collaborates with key academic, state, local, and industry partners to provide a new look at what could happen during a major earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Today, the USGS, along with approximately 60 partners, released a new fact sheet that summarizes a report from a larger study of what could happen during a major earthquake in the San Francisco Bay area along the Hayward Fault – arguably one of the most urbanized and interconnected areas in the nation. This study is called “The HayWired Earthquake Scenario.”

“The USGS and its partners have worked together to anticipate the impacts of a hypothetical M7.0 earthquake on the Hayward Fault, before it happens, so that people can use the latest science in their efforts to become even better prepared,” said Ken Hudnut, USGS Science Advisor for Risk Reduction and one of the lead authors of the HayWired Earthquake Scenario report.

The newly released USGS Fact Sheet, “The HayWired Earthquake Scenario – We Can Outsmart Disaster,” provides a concise overview of what will be a multi-volume report. The Fact Sheet distills key points of the report and provides the first glimpse of a truly groundbreaking study into earthquake hazard impacts, mitigation efforts, and resiliency actions for communities in and around the San Francisco Bay Area.

What is the HayWired Scenario?

The HayWired Scenario is a scientifically realistic, highly detailed depiction of what may happen during and after a M7.0 earthquake on the Hayward Fault with an epicenter in Oakland, CA. But it is not a prediction, and a real earthquake on the Hayward Fault could occur at any time and with a different pattern of shaking causing damage to be concentrated in different spots. Understanding the risk and getting ready for a large earthquake on the Hayward Fault like the one depicted in this scenario can help other at-risk communities prepare for similar events that are possible in their area.

The USGS Science Application for Risk Reduction (SAFRR) team initiated and coordinated collaboration among a diverse group of partners, from academia to public utility companies, to create a hypothetical earthquake scenario in the San Francisco Bay area, including impacts on nearby communities. SAFRR and its partners are publishing a multi-volume USGS Scientific Investigation Report on the HayWired Earthquake Scenario – the first two volumes are available now (HayWired Scenario Vol. 1 and Vol. 2) and the third volume is expected to be released by October 2018. Dale Cox, Project Manager for the HayWired Earthquake Scenario, described the far-reaching scope of the project: “If we all have a common understanding of what will happen before such an earthquake actually strikes, we can reshape a future with reduced losses and injuries from damaged buildings, roads, rails, pipes, wires, and fires.”

Although other earthquake hazard investigations for this area have been published, the HayWired Earthquake Scenario focuses in-depth on key themes not addressed in previous scenarios: the cumulative impacts of aftershocks and fault afterslip, likely performance of buildings constructed under current building codes, urban search and rescue implications, effects of lifeline interdependencies (including the Internet), and communities at risk. With the objective of enhancing resilience, the scenario aims to improve the communication and use of earthquake hazard studies and early warning and aftershock forecast information, and it will inform future building code developments, community capacity building, and business continuity planning.

Ryan Arba from the Earthquake and Tsunami Program within the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said, “The HayWired report provides a thorough, comprehensive analysis of the potential impact of a large-scale earthquake in the Bay Area. The State of California and its local partners have been preparing for decades; however, there is always more that we can do.” He goes on to say, “We encourage everyone to learn about the HayWired Earthquake Scenario so that they can remain vigilant in their efforts to be prepared for the next earthquake.”

Why Is It Called “HayWired”?

Communications at all levels are crucial during incident response following an earthquake. Damage to critical facilities (such as power plants) from earthquake shaking, and to electrical and telecommunications wires and fiber-optic cables that are severed where they cross a ruptured fault, can trigger cascading Internet and telecommunications outages. Restoring these services is vitally important for emergency-response coordination.

Without good communications, emergency-response efficiency is reduced, and as a result, life-saving response functions can be compromised. Thus, the name “HayWired” was chosen for the scenario to emphasize the need to examine our interconnectedness and reliance on telecommunications and other lifelines such as water and electricity.

Collaboration and Community Engagement are Essential

When asked about earthquakes in the United States, most people think of California. The “Golden State” is foremost in the public’s mind when we talk about earthquakes and impacts on communities. In fact, California’s long history of earthquake activity has enabled scientists to obtain critical data that advances understanding of how earthquakes work and what havoc they could wreak in the future. This study of the Hayward Fault is particularly notable not only for its scientific basis, but also because of the significant and impactful relationships that were either created or strengthened among a variety of partners.

“In 2017, Californians experienced multiple natural and man-made disasters that have had major impacts to lives, businesses, and communities,” said California Business, Consumer Services and Housing Authority (BCSH) Secretary Alexis Podesta. “The HayWired Earthquake Scenario report gives us a common understanding of our risk and will help us collectively prevent natural disasters from becoming ongoing catastrophes. Together we can outsmart disaster.”

Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, approximately $50 billion in infrastructure improvements and other investments were made to reduce earthquake vulnerability across the region.

The USGS partnered with numerous organizations to form the “HayWired Coalition,” whose members’ goal is to identify the scenario’s potential impacts on their constituents and to align the scenario with the resiliency, response, and recovery planning of their respective communities. The coalition began forming in mid-2016 to gather input and organize the interactions of a broad range of stakeholders – from utility companies to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the Red Cross to design and engineering firms. This process enhanced the scenario development team by helping to identify previously unrecognized vulnerabilities of communities, lifeline infrastructure, and supply chains.

As the HayWired Earthquake Scenario team examined the possible effects on every aspect of daily life, it was important to understand what people would need to get their lives back to normal. The USGS worked closely with the State of California to ramp up a public-engagement campaign that would use the scenario as a catalyst to make communities aware of earthquake risk, to help them understand what they can do to mitigate the impact of an earthquake, and how to bounce back once the shaking stops. The campaign is called “Outsmart Disaster,” and is led by the Seismic Safety Commission, which falls under the BCSH. Additionally, the USGS worked closely with the California Geological Survey and the California Office of Emergency Services to obtain a comprehensive view of the region’s current level of preparedness and its potential for improved resiliency.

Ken Hudnut summed up the spirit of the HayWired Coalition, saying, “Teamwork and partnerships have truly been the key to our success in developing the HayWired Earthquake Scenario.”

Start with Science

The USGS provides science that is critical for understanding earthquake risk, because communities can plan more effectively for earthquakes if they know when and where damaging earthquakes are likely to occur and what their effects might be – from the shaking that accompanies a mainshock and its aftershocks to secondary effects like landslides, liquefaction, and fault afterslip. Incorporation of new models from the USGS and its various partners ensure the HayWired Earthquake Scenario reflects the best and most current understanding of earthquake science and engineering.

Earthquakes pose a threat to the safety of more than 143 million people living in the United States, and estimated long-term annualized earthquake losses in the United States are more than $6.1 billion per year. The social and economic losses associated with deaths, injuries, and damage to property and infrastructure can be significantly reduced if communities understand the risk and take proactive steps to mitigate that risk.

Earthquake risk and exposure continues to increase with population growth and expanded development in hazard-prone regions of the country. Understanding earthquake hazards is critical for informed policies, priorities, strategies, and funding decisions to protect communities most at risk.