The Puente Hills fault was discovered in 1999. In 2003, a study led by SCEC researchers at USC found that the fault had ruptured at least four times in the last 11,000 years, with magnitudes ranging from 7.2 to 7.5. (The 1994 Northridge quake had a magnitude of 6.7)
The study's authors acknowledge that a full Puente Hills fault rupture is a rare event, occurring once every 3,000 years or so. "That being said," said the study's lead author, USGS researcher Ned Field, "there are other sources of earthquakes throughout the region, and it's not question of if, but when, so everyone should take necessary safety precautions."
A quake on the Puente Hills fault could "result in 3,000 to 18,000 fatalities, 142,000 to 735,000 displaced households, and more than $250 billion in total damages" says the SCEC website.
"The losses predicted for this event are greater than those experienced during the 1994 magnitude 6.7 Northridge earthquake, both because of the higher potential magnitudes and because the heavily shaken area during Northridge was mostly wood-frame residential structures, whereas Puente Hills sits under older and more vulnerable commercial and industrial structures," it adds.
"The researchers determined a probable range of estimated losses by averaging losses predicted under each scenario and model. The scenarios all assumed an earthquake occurring at 2 p.m. during a weekday, when many people are at work. The number of casualties would be significantly less if an earthquake were to occur on the fault at night when most people are at home," the SCEC website says.
The new research results, published in the May 2005 issue of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute's Earthquake Spectra, were based on shaking scenarios created using newly available software for seismic hazard analysis developed by SCEC and the USGS, coupled with HAZUS, loss-estimation software developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC) is a consortium funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and USGS. SCEC involves over 400 scientists at more than 50 research institutions and is headquartered at USC.