California's Earthquake Management

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1994 Northridge Earthquake (1)

The Facts

  • 4:31am, 17 January 1994
  • 6.7 on the Richter Scale
  • Struck the densely populated San Fernando Valley in northern Los Angeles
  • There were many thousands of aftershocks (mostly of magnitude 4.0 - 5.0) during the following weeks, causing further damage
  • 57 people died and over 1500 were seriosuly injured
  • 12,500 buildings were damaged; 25% suffered severe-moderate damage
  • 9000 homes and businesses were without electricity for several days (20,000 without gas), and 48,500 people were without water
  • There was damage to several freeways serving Los Angeles - choking traffic for 30km 
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1994 Northridge Earthquake (2)

The Management

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1994 Northridge Earthquake (3)

Lessons Learned

  • The Northridge quake occured on a fault that no one knew existed - "blind thrust fault"
  • Many more faults have been discovered as a result, including one under downtown Los Angeles
  • "If an earthquake would occur under there, it would be as large as magnitude 7 or perhaps as large as 7.5 and would be extremely destructive," said Thomas Jordan, director of the Southern California Earthquake Center.
  • At the time of the Northridge quake, there were only three global positioning system stations in southern California measuring the movements of the Earth's plates.
  • After the quake, NASA led several agencies in creating more than 250 GPS stations as part of the Southern California Integrated GPS Network.
  • Scientists can now better map fault motions and the probability of future quakes. Researchers are better able to provide instantaneous information about quake locations and intensity.
  • A law was passed requiring water heaters to be strapped in place.
  • Hospitals throughout the state are required to comply with stricter seismic requirements. The goal being that in the event of another big quake, hospitals will be the last buildings standing.
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1994 Northridge Earthquake (4)

Lessons Not Learned

  • Thousands of Southern California's buildings remain at risk of collapse
  • Thousands of buildings supported by narrow columns and considered one of the most vulnerable construction types (along with brick and concrete), remain scattered around the region
  • Not enough homeowners have earthquake insurance
  • The water system could fail again which is is both a firefighting concern and an economic one.
  • If it takes six months to get water restored, that means countless businesses could be shuttered. Not to mention the similar challenges of failed electric and telecommunication systems.
  • Deteriorating inspection capacity. Staff reductions at State and local agencies responsible for monitoring the seismic safety of buildings and infrastructure have "compromised" the ability of State and local governments to vigorously enforce existing construction and safety codes.
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