Swiss Earthquakes Happen!

May 18, 2016

Text by Charlotte Gaeng

The first thing that comes to mind when people think about Switzerland is usually not: Earthquakes. But, 500 to 800 earthquakes occur every year in Switzerland.

Michèle Marti, Head of Communications at the Swiss Seismological Service (SED) at ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) is an expert on the subject. The SED is the federal agency that is tasked with tracking earthquakes in Switzerland. When an earthquake shakes Swiss ground, the SED is responsible for communicating the details including: magnitude, exact location, and any potential damages experienced.

Michèle came to the epicenter of earthquake studies to learn from the veterans in earthquake communications. We sat down with her to see what she has learned being on the ground in San Francisco.

Q: Why is San Francisco interesting for earthquake communications?

In Switzerland we expect a major damaging earthquake every 50 to 150 years. By major, I mean with a magnitude of 6 or higher. We expect two earth tremors a day in Switzerland. In California, it’s around thirty a day. So, the communication around this topic is naturally more applied here. In Switzerland, there is one seismological service, the SED. There are several institutions dedicated to earthquake studies in California alone, not to mention the rest of the United States.

Q: What insight will you take back to Switzerland?

Many things! It is hard to compile them in a short statement. One thing that sticks out are fun evening events to communicate serious science. Here, it’s totally normal to organize parties around science. I am a big fan of nerdnight or the adult nights at California Academy of Sciences or the ExploratoriumUsing apps or games to communicate and educate are other things I think we can learn from. Not exactly a party tool, but an appealing way to learn more about your personal earthquake risk is temblor, for example.

Q: How has swissnex helped you to connect the dots?

By providing a super friendly, helpful, and appealing work environment. In offering personal introductions, swissnex SF has helped me to efficiently pursue my work while getting inspired. I gathered many unexpected insights during my stay, mostly by talking to other professionals in the field. The experts I met in LA, Menlo Park, Berkeley, and San Francisco all shared something interesting about how to communicate science.

Q: So, what to do we do in an earthquake?

DROP, COVER and HOLD ON! DROP down the floor, try to COVER under a sturdy desk, table, or other furniture. If that is not possible, seek COVER against an interior wall and protect your head and neck with your arms. Hold the position until the ground stops shaking.

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