SCEC2021 Plenary Talk, Communication, Education, and Outreach (CEO)

Pandemic lessons for earthquake resilience

Lisa Grant Ludwig

Oral Presentation

2021 SCEC Annual Meeting, SCEC Contribution #11209
Since March 2020 we have all been enrolled in a crash course on pandemic infectious disease. This experiential learning course has been costly, paid with lives, livelihoods, and our collective sense of wellbeing. With such a steep price, it is important to reap the benefits of the unwanted lessons. From my vantage point as an earthquake researcher and public health professor, I see striking similarities between pandemics and earthquakes, giving us the opportunity to learn from the pandemic and apply these lessons for earthquake resilience. Earthquakes and pandemics are challenging, in part, because they span multiple scales of time and space. A microscopic virus can launch a global scale pandemic. A miniscule crack tip propagation can lead to a major earthquake. Earthquakes and pandemics are disruptive, destructive, and episodic. Powerful earthquakes repeat. Past generations suffered through deadly pandemics. Although destructive earthquakes and pandemics are repetitive, each event is unique and uniquely confounding. The Northridge earthquake source fault was discovered by seismologists and southern Californians alike on January 17, 1994. The Tohoku-oki earthquake parameters exceeded everyone’s expectations. The “Black Death” was spread by fleas, AIDS and Ebola by physical contact, and “Spanish Flu” by breathing. What have we learned from the pandemic, that we can apply to earthquake resilience? In past and present, human behavior can mitigate or exacerbate the impact of earthquakes and infectious disease. Vaccines and building codes can save lives, but neither will do so if they are not utilized. We need data to understand the problem: surveillance of infections, and monitoring of crustal processes. We need to invest in people – scientists, engineers, and policy experts – to develop responses and solutions informed by data. Perhaps most importantly, we need transformative leadership to overcome misinformation, indifference, and resistance. What can individual SCEC scientists do? Do the best possible science, partner with others to develop solutions, and cultivate leadership skills.