Earthquakes and Bay Area Data Centers: It’s Not If, but When

by Bill Dougherty
24 August 2014

It’s been a long time since we’ve had a severe earthquake in the Bay Area, but today, a 6.1 magnitude earthquake struck 6 miles southwest of Napa. If you’ve never experienced an earthquake, trust me, 6.1 is a big one and scary! We live in Napa and our whole house was shaking at 3.20 AM!

As I help friends and family clean up today, I had a few thoughts to share with you. On a personal level, I’m thankful everyone is safe and accounted for. This earthquake had the potential to be much worse. Because the quake hit early in the morning, most people were home and asleep. Fortunately, the older buildings that were damaged were mostly unoccupied. All that we lost was stuff, and in the end, stuff doesn’t matter that much.

Bay Area Data Centers and Earthquake Risks

From a work perspective, it was a good reminder why RagingWire considers natural disaster risk as a primary selection criteria when building our data centers. We call our Sacramento data center campus "The ROCK" for a reason. That’s because it’s built on bedrock and is far from the earthquake risk zone of Northern California. Even though we’re only driving distance from San Francisco (90 miles) and San Jose (120 miles), we are a world apart when it comes to natural disaster risks.

The last major earthquake in the Bay Area was the Loma Prieta quake in 1989. A magnitude 6.9 shaker that caused part of the Bay Bridge to collapse and interrupted the World Series. Back then, like today, Sacramento was unaffected, because Sacramento is on a different tectonic plate and essentially has no earthquake risk.

In the 25 years since Loma Prieta, there have been many data centers built in the Bay Area. Memories are short, especially for IT people who weren’t here at the time. The Bay Area is a great place to live and work, but it isn’t an ideal place to put your critical IT infrastructure.

Remember, even if the data center building survives a major quake, the surrounding infrastructure is not resilient. Bridges, roads, power grids, fiber paths, and fuel suppliers are all vulnerable and have a direct impact on your operations and service availability. And there’s no question, another quake will hit the Bay Area.

It’s not a matter of IF, but WHEN.

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Bill Dougherty

Sr. Vice President & Chief Technology Officer