California Forum

Powerful earthquakes are inevitable in California. Are we prepared?

The massively powerful Ridgecrest earthquakes were a stark reminder of how vulnerable our Golden State is to the seismic movements under the ground we live on.

My heart goes out to the family of the man who was killed, the people who were injured and those who suffered damage to their homes and businesses either from fires or from structural damage. Damage so far has been estimated at more than $100 million.

The 7.1 magnitude quake on July 5, the foreshocks and the numerous aftershocks, rattled and rocked Inyo and Kern Counties and reverberated throughout Southern and Central California, where it was felt by about 30 million people. It was the biggest earthquake the state has seen in 20 years, and it was a wake-up call for all residents to prepare for the next one, especially those of us in government.

A U.S. Geological Survey simulation in 2018 estimated that an earthquake similar in magnitude to the Ridgecrest earthquake on the Hayward fault in the San Francisco Bay Area could kill up to 800 and injure up to 18,000, destroy 52,000 homes and leave 400,000 people without a place to live.


Sadly, this kind of devastation has happened before. In 1994, the Northridge earthquake, which registered a magnitude of 6.7, resulted in the deaths of 57 people, while destroying thousands of homes and apartments and causing economic damage worth more than $20 billion.

As state treasurer, I serve on the Governing Board of the California Earthquake Authority (CEA), a not-for-profit entity that sells earthquake insurance. We want to act now to make our state more resilient to earthquakes.

I am supporting legislation by state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, Senate Bill 254, to allow the Earthquake Authority to expand our retrofitting program from 2,000 homes a year to 25,000 homes a year.

Fiona Ma.JPG
Fiona Ma

California has worked hard to make our buildings safer, but the first seismic residential building codes were not enacted statewide until 1980. The majority of our housing was built before then, making it susceptible to significant damage.

This is one action, but there are many others. For example, I also encourage lenders to consider joining the California Seismic Safety Financing Program, which is a program I oversee. It makes it easier for them to finance loans to home and building owners to make their buildings more resilient against earthquakes.

I also encourage residents to equip themselves with the knowledge about what to do in an earthquake, how to take steps on their own to strengthen their homes and how to prepare. Lots of valuable information is contained on the CEA’s website,

As the Ridgecrest earthquakes taught us, it is not a question of if the next one is coming. It’s a question of when. Let’s use this time to do everything possible to keep our communities as safe as they can be.

Fiona Ma is California’s 34th state treasurer. She serves on the Governing Board of the California Earthquake Authority.
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