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New quake hazard map shows areas most at risk

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - Federal scientists are out with the latest analysis of earthquake risk, and local experts say it's a good reminder to Kern County that quake preparation is a must.

The U.S. Geological Survey released the map showing where temblors are most likely to hit and how strong.

Kern County, and much of California are still in the zone shown most at risk. California's included in the 16 states that have a relatively high chance of having a damaging quake.

The previous USGS hazard map came out in 2008, and experts say the new one looks at what's happened with quakes since then.

"Since then there's been a lot of big earthquakes in California and many small ones," Dr. Gregg Wilkerson said. "And all that information feeds into their models, and they're refining their predictions." Wilkerson's with the Bakersfield office of the Bureau of Land Management.

And what does the new data show about the level of quake risk in Kern County?

"About the same," Wilkerson told Eyewitness News on Monday. "Our big new concern, of course, was up around the dam." That's the Lake Isabella dam, where an earthquake fault was fairly recently determined to be active, not inactive.

The hazard map released last week includes analysis of the 2011 earthquake in Japan, the large quake this year in Chile, and recent quakes in Alaska, Mexico and New Zealand, according to a USGS statement.

The agency says the goal of the hazard map is to help communities make the best decisions to protect themselves from earthquake damage.

"These maps, or at least a hybrid of it, end up in the California building code," Kern County Engineering Services Interim Director Greg Fenton said. He says the quake hazard maps come out every six years, and state building codes get updated every three years. He expects the hazards identified in this latest map will end up affecting California building code revisions in 2016.

Fenton said engineers in his department will have access to more details from the USGS analysis. "But, I don't anticipate any significant changes for Kern County," Fenton added. He says our area has always been quake country, and building requirements reflect that.

But, Dr. Wilkerson has continued concerns, and mentions the Frazier Park area as an example.

"I drive up there and I see all these houses built on stilts and they're in the fault zone," Wilkerson says. "There's a lot of water tanks there, things that I see around that are built in the fault zone. These will fail."

That area sits on the San Andreas fault. And, Wilkerson says fault areas are where people want to live. The goal is to make it safer to do that.

"We need to make the structures survivable," he says. He adds USGS keeps refining their quake hazard models, and that gets reflected in the new maps.

As for new information affecting Kern County, Wilkerson says the latest analysis shows a large quake on the San Andreas sooner than previously predicted.

"We think now the probability of earthquake within the next 30 years is 50 percent," he said.

Kern has several earthquake faults. Wilkerson says even if the new map doesn't show much change in hazards here, the risk are still with us. And, he says at the end of the day, Mother Nature rules.

"It's my hope that this new map will just give everyone an opportunity to just pause and consider that life is risky no matter where you are," Wilkerson says. "Look at your home, look at your business. Is it ready for the big earthquake? If it isn't, you can take steps now to make it more survivable when we have a big earthquake."

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