The New York Times‘ Katharine Seelye begins her report (8/24/11) on yesterday’s Virginia-centered earthquake with a dangerous inaccuracy:
Of all the things there are to worry about, earthquakes are fairly low on the list for those on the East Coast.
Actually, people on the East Coast should probably worry about earthquakes a lot more than they do. A study done of potential quake hazards faced by various cities placed Boston at slightly more risk than San Francisco (Wired Science, 8/23/11)–because the latter city, while more seismically active, is also better prepared.
In New York City, where Seelye’s main audience resides, “a pattern of subtle but active faults makes the risk of earthquakes to the New York City area substantially greater than formerly believed,” as Columbia University’s Earth Institute (8/21/08) summarized a paper in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.A magnitude 6 quake, just slightly bigger than the one that hit Virginia, occurring near New York City is projected to kill more than a thousand people and do $40 billion in damage.
Seelye, assigned to cover the quake for New York City’s most powerful news outlet, could have used the opportunity to point out how the city could be better prepared for seismic disaster. Instead, she chose to write a jokey piece that gave no indication that earthquakes could pose a real threat to her readers.