The Big Ones, How Natural Disasters Have Shaped Us and What We Can Do About Them


This course is based around the April, 2018 book of the same name, by Southern California seismologist, Dr Lucy Jones. Her first chapter title is:  Imagine America Without Los Angeles. It’s about the San Andreas Fault and the earthquakes that we are subject to in our home city. Ignore at your own peril. Further chapters deal with volcanoes, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, and fires, from locations all around the world. Three of the chapters deal with California directly. How many of you know what the greatest natural disaster in California has been in the last 160 years?  It was not an earthquake, not a fire, but it was a flood in 1861-62, located near Sacramento at the confluence of the Sacramento River in the American River. It caused a lake throughout the  length of the entire central valley and up to 60 miles wide. 

We’ll learn some geology, to help explain earthquakes and volcanoes. Throughout the book, Dr. Jones discusses not only particular natural disasters, but also the preparation or lack of preparation for such a disaster, and how it affected the outcome for the community.  How to minimize damage and maximize chances for survival have been the focus for Dr. Jones’s research and work for many years both at Caltech and public boards she has led or  participated in, here in Southern California. We will also make this a focus of the course, both the survival of the community and individuals and their homes. 

Weekly Topics

  1. Earthquakes in Los Angeles and Southern California generally. 

  2. Volcanoes and Pompeii, A.D. 79. 

  3. Earthquake and fire, Lisbon Portugal, 1755 

  4. The deadliest natural disaster in recorded human history, the Laki volcanic erruption in Iceland in 1783-84. 

  5. The Great Flood, in California Central Valley, 1861-62, killed thousands  and bankrupted the state. Yet, it has been all but forgotten today. Not for us. 

  6. The earthquakes of Japan one with great regularity and frequency. That has everything to do with the tectonic plates underneath the islands. We will study these earthquakes and in particular the Yokohama earthquake of 1923. 

  7. Floods of the Mississippi and in particular the great flood of 1927.

  8. Earthquakes in China and in particular the Chinese program for trying to predict earthquakes

  9. The 2004 earthquake and subsequent giant Indian Ocean tsunami that destroyed so many lives and homes, particularly in  Sumatra’s Aceh Province, and on the beaches of  Southern Thailand. 

  10. Hurricanes and the Katrina disaster in New Orleans 

  11. Earthquake prediction and the nature of earthquakes and the 2011 Japanese Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster 

  12. The story of Maki Sahara, a Japanese woman who in 2011 organized her community to prepare for earthquakes and later to respond to the 2011 earthquake. 

  13. The chapter title is “Resilience By Design, Los Angeles, California, sometime in the future”. Our subject -protecting our communities and our homes.


The Big Ones, How Natural Disasters Have Shaped Us and What We Can Do About Them, by Lucy Jones,  published April, 2018, 228 pages