Most days, it’s easy to forget that coastal California sits at the boundary of two tectonic plates—the Pacific and North American—which are slowly sliding by each other, creating the San Andreas complex of faults. It’s easy to forget that one strand, the Hayward Fault, runs the whole length of the East Bay, cutting under Berkeley and Oakland, just a mile from my house, and that there is a one-in-three chance that it will produce a devastating earthquake before I’m a senior citizen.

But then there are days like January 4, when a magnitude 4.4 quake struck. It hit in the evening, a couple hours after my wife and I had put the kids to bed. It was strong enough to make us wonder, for a few seconds, if this was the big one.

After it passed, we resolved to get another flashlight. My wife ordered MREs from a prepper site. A few days later, she sent me a map from the U.S. Geological Survey showing the epicenter of the earthquake. It was two blocks from our house.

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