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Earthquake Unpreparedness

August 17, 1986

We were deeply disappointed with Steven Fink's review of "Waiting for Disaster: Earthquake Watch in California" (The Book Review, July 20), which is clearly based on a perfunctory and superficial reading of the book. Fink seizes on only a few of the book's points--not even especially significant ones--while ignoring most of the more important findings.

Fink writes that the authors are reluctant to interpret their data, but there are interpretations of the data throughout the book, and many of the findings have important policy implications for California.

Fink makes no mention of the book's findings: that Californians do not take most earthquake warnings seriously; that many people think their neighborhood will be excluded from earthquake damage; that the vast majority of people have not taken earthquake precautions; that many people believe in "earthquake weather" and other folklore; and that most people think government officials are taking appropriate steps in preparation for an earthquake (with the exception of the black population, which, the study showed, is much more skeptical about the ability of government to help).

Fink says the authors are reluctant to make helpful recommendations. In fact, there are many such recommendations in the book. Of course, it can also be argued that scholars should not try to play God and tell policy makers what they should do. If scholars can identify findings with significant policy implications, they have played an important role. Policy makers can then use those findings as a basis for making their decisions.



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