Environment & Science

'San Andreas': 6 things the movie gets right about earthquakes

Dwayne Johnson stars in
Dwayne Johnson stars in "San Andreas," about a massive earthquake that hits California. The movie opens May 29, 2015.
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture
Dwayne Johnson stars in
Dwayne Johnson (left) and Carla Gugino star in "San Andreas," a movie about a massive earthquake that strikes California. The movie opens May 29, 2015.
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture
Dwayne Johnson stars in
Carla Gugino, left, and Dwayne Johnson arrive at the premiere of "San Andreas" at the TCL Chinese Theatre on Tuesday, May 26, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
Richard Shotwell/Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

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The new film “San Andreas,” starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, is an action-packed flick about what many Angelenos fear—a major earthquake, aka “The Big One,” hitting Los Angeles.

“San Andreas” chronicles the destruction from a magnitude 9 earthquake and subsequent large aftershocks while a first responder, played by Johnson, struggles to keep his family together —physically and emotionally. 

Scientists are certain that a magnitude 6.7 quake will hit California within 30 years, AP reported in March, though the chance of a magnitude 8 quake during that time is just 7 percent. 

While “San Andreas,” named for a major Southern California earthquake fault, likely won’t win any awards for science, there are a few things it got right.

USGS seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones, who advised Mayor Eric Garcetti on L.A.’s earthquake preparedness plan, was invited to Tuesday night’s premiere and live tweeted the movie, much to the amusement of the twitterverse.


“At the end of the day I seeded it in reality — there were moments where I had to embellish reality—but I didn’t just make craziness up,” “San Andreas” director Brad Peyton told KPCC.

Jones, however, called out “San Andreas” for several inaccuracies, such as these:



But she also highlighted some grains of truth about earthquakes and how to react in the event of a major temblor. 

Earthquake triggering


“It’s pattern we’ve seen before," Jones told KPCC's AirTalk. "If you remember, the 1992 Landers earthquake, 7.3 in Southern California, triggers a 5.7 a next day in Nevada. So it could easily go the other way. And the day of the 1906 earthquake that had devastated San Francisco, there was a magnitude 6 in Imperial County near the Mexican border and a magnitude 5 in Santa Monica Bay. So the idea that we have our big San Andreas earthquake here in Southern California, and we trigger a San Andreas event or perhaps a Hayward fault event in Northern California, that part is actually realistic."

How to brace yourself 


“That part of [it is] actually very good," said Jones. "And that absolutely is the right thing to do. But [what] you need to worry about in an earthquake is things flying around the room. A table is really good protection for flying objects, and much better than a doorway. ..."



Neighborly rescues


Emergency communication


Family connections 


Ultimately, Dr. Jones gave this takeaway.


Others also see “San Andreas” as an opportunity to raise awareness about earthquakes and emergency preparedness, which often tends to get spotlighted after a major disaster.

“As over-the-top as it might be, the release of “San Andreas” does provide a good platform to discuss the many myths about earthquakes and tsunamis, while also describing what a real earthquake on the San Andreas Fault or a real tsunami can do in California, and what you can do to survive,” said California Geological Survey Senior Engineering Geologist Rick Wilson in a statement.  

Despite any scientific inaccuracies, Peyton said he got the most important message across. 

“I just read an article … that said having Paul Giamatti saying, ‘Drop, cover and hold’ and Dwayne Johnson saying get up against something sturdy is the best PSA you could ever have because you have movie stars giving advice that’s sound,” said Peyton. “So I would feel bad or I misrepresented if I didn’t research that but I researched that because I’m sensitive to it because it’s real.”

After the movie, Peyton realized his own household wasn’t prepared enough so they now have emergency kits in the house.

“It’s a good conversation to spur out of a movie like this which is just built for entertainment.”