Here's how SoCal is better prepared for disaster since '94 Northridge quake

Thursday, January 18, 2024
LAFD touts better rescue tech since 1994 Northridge quake
Los Angeles first responders are demonstrating the advanced equipment that didn't exist during the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Jan. 17, 1994 was a day that shook the core of Los Angeles.

When the 6.7 magnitude Northridge earthquake struck at 4:30 a.m., it wiped out buildings and bridges, leaving overpasses and freeway lanes stacked on each other like a collapsed Jenga puzzle.

The devastating quake killed 57 people and caused the equivalent of $90 billion in damage in today's dollars.

The vivid images from that day are etched into the memories of many Southern Californians - particularly first responders, building engineers and of course seismologists.

And many of them spent the 30th anniversary reflecting on just how much we've done to improve our preparations for future disasters - while also warning people to always be vigilant.

New search-and-rescue tech

The Los Angeles Fire Department held a demonstration Wednesday to display new equipment that will help firefighters locate people buried under collapsed buildings and cut through the rubble.

Those include high-tech cameras that can poke around through cracks and into enclosed spaces to spot trapped rubble. And bulldozing equipment that can jackhammer through concrete in a matter of minutes.

"These amazing new Cats that have significant jackhammering, breaking, breaching, are able to do 10 people's work in a matter of minutes," said Erik Scott with the Los Angeles Fire Department.

That's in addition to traditional techniques that include the use of search-and-rescue K-9s who can sniff out people who can't otherwise be seen or heard amid the chaos.

Be prepared

Still, emergency officials remind people to be prepared in your own homes. Keep emergency kits on hand that include food, water, batteries and tools. And learn how to turn off the water and gas if there are leaks.

ABC7 has compiled a list of items that are important to have in your earthquake kit so that you're prepared for "the big one."

"We have learned that preparedness is just not the responsibility of emergency services but also as we know a collective responsibility of our entire community," said LAFD Chief Kristin Crowley.

Seismic engineering

Policymakers, seismologists and construction engineers met Wednesday in a Pasadena symposium to reflect on the earthquake and discuss preparations for the next Big One.

Dr. Lucy Jones, widely considered one of the country's leading experts on earthquake science, said preparations are very much up to the individual.

"It's up to you," Jones said. "Is the bookcase gonna fall on you? Are you gonna lose your grandmother's china because you put it out on display in a way that isn't hooked down?"

Engineers say construction design learned a lot that day, but there is still progress to be made. For example, soft-story buildings saw some of the worst damage that day. Those are structures that have lighter stability on the first floor because, for example, there may be an open parking area at the ground level or a retail area with a lot of open space.

The Northridge Meadows apartment complex collapsed from three levels to two during the quake.

"We have come very far at least from being able to avoid the same type of collapses that happened at Northridge Meadows apartment," said structural engineer Maria Mohammed.

But there is a next step in advancement. Right now, buildings are designed so people can survive a big earthquake. The evolution of design says that buildings and their utility systems should also still function and be safe to occupy after a quake.

"Like the air conditioning, the electrical, the plumbing," Mohammed said. "Those components being functional is important for the occupants of the building to continue to reside in it, to continue to work in it."

Thirty years after the Northridge earthquake, engineers say they continue to improve the ability of buildings to withstand major jolts.