Bracing For "The Big One": A KMPH News Investigation

If the last month has taught us anything, it's that on any given day, a strong earthquake can hit anywhere.

Mexico, Chile, and Indonesia have experienced earthquakes at magnitudes more than six.

Even so, people joke that California is the land of earthquakes.

But if an earthquake were to hit here, would you be ready?

Is the Central Valley in any real danger of a major earthquake?

For the answer, we headed to the town of Parkfield.{}

The town, with 18 residents, is nestled in the hills of Monterey County.

It's the most researched earthquake zone in the world.{}That's because Parkfield is along the San Andreas Fault.

"We get several magnitude one's a week that we can detect," said Andy Snyder, who oversees the U.S. Geological Survey's Parkfield Experiment. "Earthquakes range from a magnitude one to a magnitude six."

Strong, magnitude six, earthquakes hit Parkfield every 20 to 30 years.

Monitors are placed throughout the fault line, and findings are shared with scientists around the world and universities including UC Berkeley.

The data helps scientists determine the probability of when and where a quake will hit.

But prediction, is a whole different matter.

"You can't predict earthquakes, by that we mean place, magnitude and time. But, California is a great model for quake probabilities," says Snyder.

And judging by data, there are two areas Snyder says are overdue for an earthquake.

"The elevated probabilities are in the southern section of the San Andreas. The East Bay last ruptured in 1868. The Southern section last ruptured in 1857 - it was a magnitude eight. The timeline is one to 300 years. We're well within the middle of that," he says.

A magnitude eight would likely be felt 100 miles away, and could have the capability to slightly damage buildings, even those that are well-designed.

That said, Snyder says most of the Central Valley is in the clear -- it's not near any major fault lines.

"You can feel it, but is it going to damage any buildings or disrupt power lines or hospitals, most likely not," he said.

Historically speaking, the Central Valley has had only one major earthquake.

It was in Coalinga, on May 2, 1983, and registered a magnitude 6.7.

But if any when a strong earthquake hits, Fresno County leaders say they're ready for another.

Central command for emergency operations in Fresno County would be inside the county Health Department, in downtown Fresno.

"All of us have to think about it, be prepared," says Ken Austin, Fresno County's Emergency Services Coordinator.

He says Fresno County has supplies stockpiled in secret locations.

The Red Cross is ready with cots for major evacuations.

Schools are on notice -- they can be used anytime, too -- as evacuation centers.

"We could realistically bring in all the resources we need within a short amount of time," says Austin.

"We have masks, small equipment needed for health events, some medications, not a lot," adds Rose Mary Garrone, Health Services Coordinator.

While a strong earthquake may be a long-shot, the Valley is in danger of other disasters.

They include wildfires, freezes and floods.

But living in California, earthquakes are always a possibility.

"Even if you don't live in an earthquake prone area, almost all of us go to the coast or go on vacation in northern or southern California, so we should understand and know what actions to take should one occur," Austin says.