Just a Matter of Time?

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," Dec. 29, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.

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JOHN GIBSON, HOST: The scenes of devastation overseas have people in the U.S. worried that the next disaster could strike a little closer to home. Henry Renteria, the director of the California governor's office of emergency services is with me now. Henry, here is today's big question: Could this happen here in the U.S., particularly in California? And are we, you, ready?

HENRY RENTERIA, CAL. GOV. OFFICE OF EMERG SRV: Well, when you talking about an event of this size, especially an earthquake (search) the magnitude of nine or greater, these are the types of things that are almost unimaginable to prepare for. I mean, but at the same time, we do have experience with earthquakes of much smaller size and nature and we have learned some major lessons from that. So there are a lot of mitigating factors and counter measures that we have put into place especially in the state of California that prepares us for these types of events.

GIBSON: Well, Henry, let me ask you, I grew up in California, spent most of my life there, am familiar with earthquake preparedness, all that stuff, but let me just ask you, as the guy who oversees this, if you got a call that there was a nine pointer out in the Pacific and you probably have a tsunami coming toward L.A., would I hear the L.A. life guards ordering people off the beach immediately?

RENTERIA: That's directly related to the type of information, warning systems that are in place at the local government level. If we received notification of a magnitude earthquake of that size, we do have systems in place that will allow real time information to go to areas such as dispatch centers, 911 centers, police and fire. And the systems in place could then be funneled down to the local level to allow those types of notifications.

GIBSON: Just so people don't think I'm making things up. There was a 9-point quake in 1964 in Alaska and there was a tsunami that came ashore in Crescent City, California, northern California. If that were to happen again, would Crescent City, since it got it once, would it be warned?

RENTERIA: Actually once something happens in the local government area, they are much more prepared for the next time it could happen.

GIBSON: I don't know if you qualify as a natural earthquake expert, but every time there is, you know, a six-pointer and getting up towards seven points which is pretty good sized, L.A. or northern California, the question is always asked, did this event put pressure on a plate somewhere else? Can we expect, once something got pushed one place, that it has built up pressure somewhere else and there might be another break? Now this one, nine points, huge, huge, huge, across 600 miles of ocean bottom. Is there a feeling among California earthquake types that there may be something coming? That there has been some pressure built up?

RENTERIA: Actually, that's a very good question and we did have that discussion earlier today regarding that same issue. And the experts really feel that there is no relationship between earthquakes that occur on a different geological plate versus the ones that we are sitting on. So the easy answer is to say those two systems are not at all related and there is the very little probability that something would happen here. On the other hand, earthquakes are very common here in our ring of fire and the Pacific plate. So that doesn't mean we shouldn't be prepared and be aware of the fact that it could happen.

GIBSON: Henry, just to give people some perspective, I mean does the size of this quake — I mean it was underwater — but doesn't this just take your breath away? This thing was enormous?

RENTERIA: Absolutely. I'm still amazed by the video that's coming in and the information we're receiving every day. The toll figure of the number of people killed and injured continues to go sky high.

GIBSON: What would happen if that size quake and that length of surface break occurred on dry land, let's say between San Diego and Oregon?

RENTERIA: Well, again, because of the lessons we have learned from previous earthquakes, we have done a lot of work here in California to strengthen our buildings and to strengthen our freeways. Now on the other side of the coin, an earthquake of a 9.0 magnitude will destroy a lot of buildings and it will cause a lot of damage. There is an old saying that earthquakes don't kill people. Buildings kill people when they fall down.

GIBSON: Yeah, that's true. Henry Renteria, with, the director of the California governor's office of emergency services and Henry is right. They do prepare for these things in California. I was there and I bolted down my own foundation once.

Henry, thanks a lot, appreciate it.

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