Wednesday, July 30, 2008

When Government Works

For the most part, yesterday's 5.4 earthquake here in Southern California provided residents with an inconvenience, not a tragedy. Located in an urban area, the moderate earthquake could have caused substantial damage, but it didn't. We can thank government for that. Here's what the Los Angeles Time pointed out:

As aftershocks continued to reverberate, officials inspected airports, freeways and buildings, and reported little damage from the quake, which occurred at 11:42 a.m. and was the first significant temblor in more than a decade to be centered in an urban area of California. The biggest strains were felt in phone and Internet systems, which buckled due to overwhelming demand in the minutes after the jolt.

The quake struck hardest in an area of San Bernardino County that has seen massive growth in population and housing in the last decade. That meant that the buildings shaken the hardest were mostly built under California's strictest building codes, updated in 1997 in response to the 6.7 Northridge quake of 1994. That kept damage to a minimum. ...

"It's the best possible location," said Lucy Jones, chief scientist for the Multi-Hazards Initiative of the U.S. Geological Survey. "If this had happened in San Bernardino [city], where there are over 200 unreinforced masonry buildings, we would have had a lot of downed buildings."

Jones said big earthquakes often lead to an upgrade in building codes. For instance, she said, unreinforced masonry was outlawed in California in a 1935 code, adopted in the aftermath of the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. The 1997 code, adopted after Northridge, banned brittle steel and mandated that builders use a stronger welding material to join steel parts.
[Emphasis added]

Now, when the "big one" hits Southern California (the prediction is one with a magnitude 7.8 occurring along the San Andreas fault), we won't be so lucky, especially with respect to damage. Knowing that, local authorities hold regular emergency drills so that the human devastation can be minimized. One such drill is scheduled for this November and involves a consortium of cities and services.

All of this shows why Grover Norquist was wrong, deadly wrong, with his ideal of shrinking government until it fits in a bathtub and then drowning it. When government does what it is supposed to do, real security for citizens is enhanced.

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