A wide-ranging account of earthquakes, the least understood of natural disasters, with vivid stories of the havoc they create and a warning about what will someday happen in the United States.
Journalist Miles (Superstorm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy, 2014), a writer-in-residence at Green Mountain College, took an extended road trip across the country to report on the myriad risks of seismic disasters. Along the way, she picked the brains of cooperative engineers and scientists and chatted with miners and emergency managers, people with whom she established immediate rapport. A daring investigator, she descended into deep mines, gained entry to nuclear power plants (some of which are built on fault lines), and ventured into the interiors of high dams, observing, asking questions, and conjuring some scary conclusions—e.g., earthquakes happen, our infrastructure is in a sorry state, and many localities have no seismic codes to regulate construction. Miles lightens this grim picture with her conversational writing style. She shares her thoughts, emotions, and experiences, even the most commonplace ones, effectively taking readers along on her cross-country wanderings. In the Midwest, where fracking is common and quakes are frequent, her conversations with people waiting for the big one while living regularly with toppled chimneys and broken china are spot-on. While she describes past earthquakes in other countries, the author focuses mostly on the prospects of a major quake in this country and what can be done to prepare for it. After looking at struggles to develop technology that can predict earthquakes, Miles reports on the success of early warning systems, which can make a major difference in survival rates, and she sets forth a scenario in which a few seconds of warning and some preparedness measures can ameliorate the devastation of a major quake.
Occasionally long-winded but readable and engaging—not to mention eye-opening, as the author delivers a firm warning to policymakers as well as individual citizens.