Black Line of Death!

I panicked yesterday.

This actually happens to me a lot because, simply put, I have access to too much information in my daily life. I’ve always worked in the museum world, in an educational capacity, surrounded by scholars, artists, scientists, historians — really smart people. It’s been one of the best things about my life but also, at times, one of my biggest stumbling blocks.

You see, I’m a huge worrywort. Sometimes it’s better if I just don’t know certain things. Once I learn something, I can’t UNlearn it. I can’t pretend I don’t know what I know — I’m not that kind of person. I can’t NOT do anything about something that needs something done about it. You see?

I’m pretty much living on a diet of rice and beans now because, through my work on an interactive exhibit about climate change for a science center, I’ve learned way too much about the global food crisis to eat animals, fish, tofu, dairy, or eggs. Yep — they all give me nightmares.

And now I know way too much about seismic hazards in the Bay Area for someone who’s about to buy a house six blocks from the Hayward Fault line. Waaayyy. Too. Much.

Most of my friends know I was already obsessed with earthquake safety as a mere renter in San Francisco. I joined my neighborhood watch, went off and got myself trained for the San Francisco Fire Department’s Neighborhood Emergency Response Team, and became the block captain for South Van Ness Avenue. I have a hard hat, a reflector vest, and PLENTY of fresh water. Huzzah.

Modeling my NERT helmet.

Modeling my NERT helmet. That's NERT. Not NERD.

But if you thought I was bad before — oh man. That was before I went to an all-day meeting of the KQED Quest Partner Network (of which my boss and I are a part) and listened to a presentation on their new project about earthquakes in California.

F#@%!!!!!!!!!! Forget about the San Andreas Fault, people. Screw San Francisco — it’s not going anywhere. It’ll get a little rattle now and then, but barely enough to spill a bacon maple latte. THE EAST BAY IS F#@%ED. Like, by the time the shaking stops, your bacon maple latte is gonna look more like a tofu molasses decaf.

I thought these KQED people must be smokin’ the wacky tobbacky about how bad the situation on the Hayward Fault really is, but, um, no. No they aren’t. It really is that bad.

Map of the Hayward Fault line.

Our house is down there in the orange somewhere, close to the black line of death.

If you’re out here in the Bay Area, and you’ve felt any of the quakes we’ve been having recently, I’ve got news for you — those were all on the Hayward Fault. And there’s a 63% chance that a magnitude 6.7 OR GREATER earthquake will strike one of the Bay Area’s faults in the next 30 years (i.e., before the end of our mortgage). On the Hayward Fault alone, the probability is highest: 31%, or a 1 in 3 chance.

And if that happens? Well, we’re talking a complete and total catastrophe. No one will remember Hurricane Katrina when it’s over.

Oh, and here’s the real kicker. The geologic record shows that a major stress-releasing event takes place on the Hayward Fault on average every 140 years.

140 years was up in 2008.

That last major earthquake happened on October 21, 1868. It was a magnitude 6.8 quake that struck what was then nothing more than a few small homesteading communities — one of which was called Hayward. It quickly became known as the “Great San Francisco Earthquake,” until a larger and more devastating 7.8 quake on the San Andreas took over that name in 1906 (and by then, there was a whole metropolitan community sitting on top of all these faults). But today, some scientists believe that the Hayward quake actually may have been more violent. There just wasn’t anything around to destroy back then to prove it.

Hayward, 1868.

Hayward, 1868. Looks fun, huh?

I tried telling myself that all these little earthquakes we’ve been having mean the fault is letting off some steam, so we’ve got to be good for a few years yet. But then I learned from way too many articles, the KQED folks, my colleagues, blah blah blah… That that’s not how it works at all.


Actually, the opposite is usually true. The 7.8 1906 quake on the San Andreas released a considerable amount of strain from the entire Bay Area fault system, and we’ve been in a period of relative quiet for close to the past hundred years: what they call an “earthquake shadow.” But now we’re waking up… And these little quakes actually indicate a build-up of stress on the faults of the system as they start to stretch and yaaawwwnnn…


So with that, I proceeded to lay awake, staring at the computer, and flipping back and forth between maps of our neighborhood, plots of the Hayward Fault line, geologic maps of the state of California… And fretting.

Lots of people would say, “Earthquakes! You can’t worry about that.” But I assure you — yes you can. You definitely can.

In fact, I believe that those who worry, will survive. Possibly with their houses and MOST of their property intact.

One sleepless night, a ton of research about earthquake retrofitting and earthquake insurance, and several phone calls to contractors, the California Earthquake Authority, and our real estate agent later, and I have a plan of attack. On May 1st I will be standing in our new house with a structural engineer going over a retrofit bid from a separate contractor to verify whether it’s sufficient, given the house’s construction relative to the ground. We will execute his recommendations immediately thereafter, and then get a catastrophic earthquake insurance policy sufficient to cover the difference (I already have earthquake renter’s insurance, so can make a fast move — go me!).

A part of me briefly thought the only safe way to do this was to walk away, but I want this. Trent wants this. Sometimes, you just have to channel that worry into…


You can huff, and you can puff, but you can’t blow the Temples’ house down. Not even if you’re Motherf@#%kin’ NATURE.

(Also, this house is on bedrock. And it just appraised for more than what we’re paying for it. We are NOT walking away.)

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10 thoughts on “Black Line of Death!

  1. Carla Daniels says:

    Yay Bedrock!! I am happy you are sticking with the place. Also, I am terrified for my life. Hoooray!!!

    • lisatemp says:

      Terrified is not bad. Terrified is good. Now just channel that into terrified and prepared. Like, buy a house on our street so you can walk over after the big one and cook food in our firepit and help us drink some of our earthquake water! 🙂

  2. Okay, when I hung up the phone the first time, after talking to you last night, I started to worry a little (You inherited that from me. I was elected “High School Worry Wort”.) But, when you called back to say your appraiser called and your house had just jumped in value by $12,000, and you have not even closed yet, I felt like it was a sign from God. I know that you and Trent are meticulous about your research and your finances (THAT you inherited from your dad), and that you have never made a bad decision in your adult lives. But buying a house on an earthquake fault line caused me to pause, just a little. Then I got up this morning and read all your research on the subject and I realized that YOU ARE THE ONLY PEOPLE I KNOW WHO COULD TURN A MAJOR NATURAL DISASTER INTO AN OPPORTUNITY FOR DEVELOPMENT!!! i have no doubt you and your little house and your doggy, too, would survive a bay area quake. You are an earthquake NERD! And I LOVE you for that! Your research on everything from food to history to earthquakes never ceases to amaze and inform me. I now know more than I ever wanted to know about earthquakes, but I feel better for it. So,even if the whole house comes tumbling down, the freakin’ lot will still be worth more than you paid for it. And I will come to town and organize a “re-build” party and we will just start over. One thing I have learned from all that worrying over the years is that you can’t change what you can’t change so you might as well relax and enjoy the fallout. I can’t wait for your housewarming party! Love, Mom

  3. KirkH says:

    I have only felt one earthquake in the 38 11/12th years that I have lived in Michigan. There are plenty of homes and Museums here.

  4. Katherine says:

    I am totally freaked by the earthquake thing too. The first thing we did when we moved in was retrofit our house. That’s one of the reasons we didn’t want to rent anymore. Landlords don’t bother retrofitting! Back then the City of Oakland helped pay for it if you were a new homeowner but the fund ran out in 2008. Does your block have a CORE group? We’re just getting started with ours. I’m sure you already know what it is, but if you don’t just look it up on the City of Oakland website.

    • lisatemp says:

      Oh, I’m joining CORE alright. And I remember you saying that owning in earthquake country was good for precisely that reason — at least you control what you’re living in. It made me feel better!

  5. […] thing on my list of immediate improvements was a complete seismic retrofit for the house (remember this?). And I knew that, too, was probably going to reveal some more dry rot. But hey — we had to […]

  6. […] lived in a house on a hill six blocks from the Hayward fault with a cracked foundation and didn’t […]

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