Sunday, August 24, 2014

Earthquakes and Scientific Research: California's Exposure to Damage

The 6.1 earthquake today in Northern California once again demonstrated the vulnerability of scientific research in the Golden State to disruption by tremor.

As of Sunday morning, no research institutions – stem cell or otherwise -- reported damage from the quake. However, it was still early in the process of assessing the full impact of the temblor.

The closest stem cell research facility to the quake epicenter is the Buck Institute, located in Novato, which is roughly 15 miles from the epicenter.  A spokeswoman for Buck, which holds $34 million in awards from the California stem cell agency, said she had received no immediate reports of damage..

In response to a question from the California Stem Cell Report, Kris Rebillot said,
“I have not heard anything from our facilities staff about damage. The Buck is on pretty stable bedrock. I live in Petaluma which is closer to quake. No damage there.”
Later she reported that a walkthrough showed "no discernible damage."

The likelihood of severe shaking from an earthquake
is shown on this state map. The greatest potential is
marked by lavender with red and orange as less
 intense. The epicenter of the Napa quake was near
the north end of San Francisco Bay. 
 California is riddled with earthquake faults, many of which lie beneath or close by major research institutions, including StanfordUC Berkeley and UC San Francisco. Institutions in the south are in the same situation as well.

Problems that arose in the aftermath of today’s quake included lack of power, lack of water and natural gas leaks from pipelines. 

The situation recalled a lesser event that left one Southern California stem cell research institution without its normal power.  The institution, which will remain unnamed, had a backup generator that also failed. Fortunately the situation was caught before irreparable harm occurred.

The focus during events like today’s quake in Napa is on major damage and injury. But research institutions can suffer significant harm from what appears to be relatively minor damage – laptops smashing to floors, servers toppling, delicate instruments flying off tables, animal cages falling over and breaking and so forth.

Today’s event served notice that researchers should double-check their safety measures and physical security of important equipment and ensure that all data is backed up well offsite where it would not be destroyed by a quake.  That would include data at the California stem cell agency, which is headquartered in San Francisco.

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