Shaking the Economy |

Shaking the Economy

Brook Bentley
The magnitude 6.0 Wells, Nevada, earthquake in 2008 has been the largest seismic event in Nevada in 42 years. Historically, Nevada can expect to have three magnitude 7.0 earthquakes per century and one magnitude 6.0 or larger every decade, according to Nevada Seismological Laboratory Director Graham Kent.
Courtesy University of Nevada, Reno |

The Earthquake Economic Resiliency Forum discussed the problem, aftermath and recovery, economic resilience and next steps for the northern Nevada region to execute a plan for earthquake resiliency. The forum, held at the Eldorado Resort Casino on April 19, highlighted the importance of earthquake insurance, the economic impact that occurs beyond the initial 36 hours post earthquake and the difference a plan prior to an earthquake can have on a localized economy.

The Forum preceded the annual Seismological Society of America meeting held in Reno last week, which attracted 800 seismologists from around the country and world to talk about technology and new efforts in their field.

Graham Kent of Nevada Seismological Laboratory explained in a phone interview that the immediate response post earthquake is good but the lack of economy three months later is where the problem lies. Having some resiliency efforts in place can have a huge impact.

Planning ahead

The technology to monitor early earthquake warnings, as well as cameras for early fire warnings, can already be seen on parts of the California-Nevada border region. Kent acknowledged and commended Mayor Hillary Schieve in her realization that more needs to be done. Kent explained that in order for Nevada to keep moving forward, as it has worked so hard to do, the need for earthquake economic resiliency is crucial. Nevada has to be looked at as a whole state in this respect, and will be better poised with early warning technology in place. Nevada is then in a better position to attract companies and to pursue advancements like building a high-speed rail between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Nevada’s desire to attract more manufacturers demands business resiliency.

There are specific types of manufacturers that require early earthquake warning technology to be in place. Companies like Switch and eBay have worked directly with the Nevada Seismological Laboratory at the University of Nevada, Reno to be ready in the event of a big earthquake. To illustrate the types of companies that may be deterred from the area without a plan in place, Kent used the example of an expensive stylist or 3D printing facility falling subject to big earthquake shakes resulting in total loss. Among the harm to other businesses and economic impact a big earthquake could have on the northern Nevada region, the high tech initiative furthers the importance of creating a conversation about early earthquake warnings and economic resiliency plans in such an event. Kent said, “there are a lot of good things happening in Nevada, let’s be ready and plan so we don’t get derailed from that.”

Kyle West of the City of Reno, Safety and Training Manager addressed Reno and northern Nevada about the next steps for earthquake economic resiliency. The hazard mitigation plan was approved at the council meeting in April. This addressed 14 primary hazards including flood, fire and earthquake. Regional emergency operation plans were completed in March and Nevada statewide recovery plans are being worked on now. “There is a good recovery effort and a more resilient community is being worked on statewide,” West said.

Financing is part of what inhibits fixing the unreinforced masonry buildings, which is why West addressed the need for a private-public partnership and getting the community involved for help. There is a national disaster recovery framework guide at and Reno just hired a city resilience manager. These are all good for structural mitigation but the nonstructural aspect is huge too. This includes everything from lighting in schools, to hospitals having been retrofit structurally, but equipment within the building needs to be secure as well.

Annie Kell of Nevada Seismological Laboratory talked about 100 Resilient Cities, a program that is working to help cities around the world become more resilient to the physical, social and economic challenges that are a growing part of the 21 century. Fire, flood, climate change and earthquake can physically impact Nevada, and resiliency to those means the ability to live well before the disaster, float through the disaster and recover back to normal. For Nevada, this means being resilient in tourism — keep people spending money at businesses — and for homeowners, being sure people have a place to live. Kell stated tax cuts for retrofitting buildings and government incentives may be good to make citizens more engaged with the area and its needs prior to an earthquake event.

The Washoe County building department is working to identify buildings that will not perform well in an earthquake event, Kell said. This accountability will aid first response teams in knowing which areas may be hit harder. Kell advocated pushing retrofit guidelines, and the need to do better because people may not know that their home or property is at risk. “Invest in mitigation efforts,” Kell stressed. Her remarks regarding the importance of earthquake insurance were about the direct impact to the local economy. The insurance money will provide the opportunity for immediate jobs and private insurance will pay before Federal Emergency Management Agencies (FEMA). Kent said in a later phone interview that while the government agencies will assist what they can, private insurance would actually pay accordingly in the event of an earthquake.


Steve Wesnousky of the Nevada Seismological Laboratory stressed the problem that exists as a result of the geological background of the Reno-Carson City-Tahoe-Truckee corridor. With the multiple fault lines that sit along the California-Nevada border, about six millimeters per year of strain accumulates in the rocks across the Reno-Carson area.

Monitoring accumulated strain and other factors with technology has provided the answer to how big, how often and where earthquakes can occur, but the question mapping and tracking with technology cannot answer is when they will occur.

“There could be a big economic impact on Interstate 80. (A big Earthquake) could result in a loss of millions of dollars in transportation,” explained Rich Kohler of the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology as he recounted the history of some earthquakes in the area. “Sitting near the Sierras, rock falls are a serious thing,” he elaborated regarding how earthquakes could shut down Interstate 80 and the trucking industry that relies on that route. He recounted the Mogul-Summerset earthquake sequence in 2008 with the largest intensity registering at a 4.7 magnitude. He explained that, historically, the California-Nevada border has not really seen a large earthquake, meaning 6.0 magnitude or greater. Falling on the long side since a large earthquake in the region again beckons the question of when such an event might occur.

“Starting a community conversation and having people believe the earthquake threat is real, is good,” Craig dePolo of Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology explained. The reason people prepare for earthquakes is because the outcome is unacceptable. He highlighted the unreinforced masonry inventory of the Reno-Sparks-Carson City corridor that is of concern during an earthquake. This type of building is made of brick or stone and lacks reinforcement from rebar. He referenced the 2008 earthquake in Wells where unreinforced masonry buildings were subjected to side-to-side motion resulting in collapse. These types of buildings threaten northern Nevada’s economic resiliency post earthquake.

Earthquakes can result in human injury, property loss, inability for a property to be used resulting in revenue loss, anxiety building from exposure to the clean up efforts, or community value loss. In the case of Wells, the historical heart of the town was gone after the earthquake.

dePolo said that an estimated 1,400 unreinforced masonry buildings cannot handle the stress of a big earthquake in the Carson-Reno area. These types of buildings vary from five-story mixed-use to houses he explained. There is a need to assess the high-risk properties, usually those that are occupied both day and night, and retrofit them when possibile. Lincoln Hall at the UNR is currently undergoing restabilization, a $2.6 million retrofit project.

Mark Stirling of Geological Nuclear Science of New Zealand addressed the economic impact felt in Christchurch, New Zealand after its 2011 earthquake. He said New Zealand’s annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) felt a 10 percent loss in 2011. Chile’s 2011 earthquake resulted in a GDP loss of 18.6 percent.

Graham Kent of Nevada Seismological Laboratory added in a phone interview that had the Christchurch community not invested in earthquake insurance they would likely never have recovered from the 2011 earthquake.

The forum’s conversation around earthquake economic resiliency was intended to shine light on the California-Nevada border and the impact a big earthquake could have on the northern Nevada region. Ultimately the hope is to begin executing a plan so that when the big earthquake does shake the region Nevada can remain as economically resilient as possible.