'Great Shakeout' reminds of earthquake threat

October 20, 2010 7:21:52 PM PDT
This Thursday is the "Great Shakeout" -- an annual reminder to all Californians to be ready for the next big one. The Loma Prieta earthquake devastated the Bay Area 21 years ago, but things might be different if a similar quake struck today.

On October 17, 1989 the Loma Prieta earthquake did some of its worst damage to highways and bridges. Now the major structures are much improved.

"We could still lose some functionality, but should not, given the work they've done, see the kind of catastrophic failure like on the Cypress structure," says Frances Edwards, Ph.D., from the Mineta Transportation Institute.

Edwards is an expert on emergency preparedness. She has just co-authored a handbook on emergency management for state transportation agencies. She took a look at Loma Prieta and the changes since then.

"I think it's important for people to realize that the average street in the Bay Area has not been well maintained," says Edwards.

Edwards says surface streets have been neglected and one study predicts 1,700 road segments will be impassable.

In 1989, mutual aid fire crews from Southern California could not communicate with Bay Area fire agencies, but now they can.

"We now have a requirement in the government code that all fire service agencies must use the incident command system when they go on a mutual aid effort," says Edwards.

The Bay Bridge is safer, but the new one is still about three years from completion.

"We did things like tie-downs at the foundation level. We added a seismic damper at Pier E-9 where the damage was done," says Caltrans spokesperson Bart Ney.

The retrofit pales in comparison to seismic features of the new bridge which is built to not only stay standing, but stay open.

"Quite likely we won't have either of the international airports, San Francisco or Oakland, available to us immediately, so supplies and equipment will be coming into Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield and we'll need a route to get them into the city," says Ney.

The question is, will the Bay Bridge be done before the next big one?


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