Big quake could crush Bay Area economy

The economic devastation in the Bay Area following a magnitude 6.9 earthquake on the Hayward fault would surpass the economic losses in regions ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, according to a new analysis by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In the nine Bay Area counties combined, the effects of a large temblor would put at risk 87,000 employers, 1.5 million jobs and quarterly wages approaching $25 billion, said Richard Holden, regional commissioner for the Bureau of Labor Statistics and main author of the study, which was published Thursday in the Monthly Labor Review.

“It’s not just a human tragedy when something like this happens — economically it’s very devastating to the area,” Holden said.

Alameda County, which encompasses three-fourths of the length of the fault, would be the hardest hit. The largest employment losses would be in health care and social assistance, manufacturing, education, and retail, according to the analysis.

Such an earthquake would interrupt the relationship between businesses and their customers and suppliers, which could trigger a far-reaching domino effect felt far beyond the Bay Area, Holden said.

While it’s difficult to fully prepare for an earthquake, Bay Area businesses and governments aren’t doing all they can, said San Mateo County Supervisor Jerry Hill.

“The time is coming and we’re not prepared,” he said.

Cities are shrinking their public works departments, hospitals are reducing the numbers of beds and there are increased efforts to close regional airports, Hill said. While some large corporations have moved their servers to off-site locations to protect their information, earthquake preparedness is not a top concern for most businesses, Hill said.

But Association of Bay Area Governments President Rose Jacobs Gibson said that the region’s cities and counties have made strides in working together to streamline the process for receiving state and federal aide to recover from a large earthquake.

“Katrina was a tremendous wake-up call for everyone,” she said.

Geologists estimate that the Hayward fault has a 27 percent chance of experiencing a seismic event by 2032.

“Immediate recovery can happen quite soon for some businesses, but some will never recover,” Holden said.

tbarak@examiner.com

Hayward Fault

Officials estimate that San Francisco and San Mateo would suffer billions of dollars in losses from a magnitude 6.9 earthquake along the Hayward fault.

San Francisco

Employers: 12,220

Employment: 239,022

Quarterly wages: $4.9 billion

San Mateo

Employers: 753

<p>Employment: 23,249

Quarterly wages: $653.2 million

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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