Between a (Tectonic) Rock And a Hard Place (1)

Ever since I was a teenager, I have been under the impression that San Francisco is where I wanted to live for the rest of my life. Sure, there were places I wanted to travel and things I wanted to do, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to quell my love for this city, until recently.

The Worst Article I’ve Ever Read

I came across Kathyrn Schulz’s article in The New Yorker titled “The Really Big One” around a month ago, and I hate that I ever came across it. I’d been reading about David Lowery’s 2017 film A Ghost Story, which was the first movie he’d made after a year-long existential crisis following his reading of Schulz’s article. It gives a detailed and multidisciplinary view of the inadequacy of earthquake safety on the west coast of the United States, while also describing the nearly-guaranteed destruction of the Pacific Northwest. She describes a geologic time scale in which we are due for earthquakes, generally agreed on in the seismology community as it is based centuries of data. According to this scale, which was tracks the years between major earthquakes, “we are now three hundred and fifteen years into a two-hundred-and-forty-three-year cycle,” (Schulz 3). Essentially, there should’ve been an earthquake a while ago, as the scale says, but there wasn’t, causing tectonic pressure to build up and eventually release a much stronger earthquake. The article causes the reader to come to the conclusion that the scale is large enough to allow an entire civilization to set up camp, but not large enough to allow said civilization to die out before it happens again. The preparation and planning it would take to protect us from the imminent “8.7 to 9.2,” (Schulz 2) earthquake is terribly drastic, causing the redesigning of entire cities and constructing massive sea walls.

In the worst attempt at reassurance I’ve ever experienced in my 20 years of living, Schulz describes our incredibly ill-equipped and inept earthquake preparedness by describing an amazing system that picks up on the “compressional waves,” (Schulz 5), only detectable by certain seismic tools, sent out by earthquakes around a minute before they strike, allowing “early-warning systems, such as those in use throughout Japan, to automatically perform a variety of lifesaving functions: shutting down railways and power plants, opening elevators and firehouse doors, alerting hospitals to halt surgeries, and triggering alarms so that the general public can take cover,” (Schulz 5), but then ultimately draws a blow to the reader by saying that the Pacific Northwest has no such system, and that it really only exists in Japan.To put it shortly; it’s absolutely terrifying. Schulz’s article is so intense, detailed, and foreboding that it won a Pulitzer Prize in 2016 for Feature Writing.

I also looked into a brief earthquake scare in Berkeley in 2011, that Carol Pogash of The New York Times wrote about in her article titled “Clicking ‘Send” Spurs Quake Anxiety”. She speaks of an email sent out claiming that there will be a “30 percent chance of an earthquake above a 6.0 magnitude on the Hayward fault in the next two to three weeks,” (Pogash 1), which in turn provided a brief overview and insight into the silent paranoia and anxiety Bay Area residents face when it comes to earthquakes, and alludes to a lesson being learned only when it is too late. As it turns out, the email was inaccurate and caused unnecessary panic, though the threat of earthquakes are serious. The Bay Area News Group wrote an article in the Los Angeles Daily News titled “Major Earthquake Predicted to Hit Northern California Within 30 Years” talking about the chances and time frame of a strong earthquake, writing that a “ 72 percent chance that a magnitude 6.7 or larger quake — almost the size of the 1989 Loma Prieta temblor — will strike the Bay Area before the year 2044,” (BANG 3). All of these articles, including this one, drive home the ideas that destruction is really any minute now.

Why am I researching this?

The anxiety this causes me is ridiculous, so my research into it is a sort of way to calm me down. I barely have the capacity to handle the day-to-day anxieties on my own, let alone thinking about the destruction of the west coast where I’ve resided in for most of my life. My research would consist of how the earthquake would affect the Bay Area, as well as what precautions are in place in terms of safety, as there is no route for prevention. I hope that in researching this topic and ultimately writing a final paper, I will be able to send my reader through a roller coaster of emotions: starting with fear, moving on to interest, and ultimately to a drive for change.


In revising this topic proposal, I corrected some spelling errors, as well as some grammatical errors. I also added a little more explanation for my quotes, as they may have come off as scientific jargon otherwise. I also gave it a nice title, and added those ellipses above “Revisions” because it looked nice and gave the reader another point of entry.

Works Cited

Group, Bay Area News. “Major Earthquake Predicted to Hit Northern California within 30 Years.” Daily News, Daily News, 28 Aug. 2017,

Pogash, Carol. “Clicking ‘Send’ Spurs Quake Anxiety.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 5 Nov. 2011,

Schulz, Kathryn. “The Earthquake That Will Devastate the Pacific Northwest.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 9 Aug. 2017,



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Duriel Meisner

Duriel Meisner

I am a full time second year student at SFSU, majoring in Cinema. This is where I will publish my research on earthquakes, timidly and anxiously.