20th Northridge Earthquake Anniversary: Quake-Safe Construction

20th Northridge Earthquake Anniversary: Quake-Safe Construction

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From Hal Eisner:

Back in 1994 Doug Failing worked at Cal Trans. He remembers the Northridge Quake. He ended up having to deal with a lot of the rebuilding and design of overpasses and bridges that took a hit.

Says Failing,  "There were a number of freeways that collapsed.  The 118 … 5/14 lost a connector .. I-5 at Gavin Cyn we lost a bridge there and the I-10 near Downtown – Venice Fairfax. That area was all gone.")

The quake left many images in our minds. There were buildings that collapsed, fires that started and freeways were broken and buckled.

We jumped in a car with Patrick Chandler of Cal Trans. He was in high school at the time. Now, with Caltrans he explains how the columns under the 10 were built for earthquakes as they were rebuilt. And, here's an interesting statistic. Chandler says nearly 100% of the retrofitting that was needed after the Northridge Quake has been done to statewide bridges and overpasses. 73% has been completed for local ones.

Chandler says "So a lot of the columns are encased in steel and concrete. The idea is to prevent failure so if there is an earthquake - side to side or up and down -- so if there is a quake it can try to prevent failure like we saw in the past.

Out in front of METRO's Downtown Headquarters Failing told me "There were a number of lessons from the Northridge Earthquake. What we learned was that the retrofits we had done worked. So, we were on the right strategy, but we really needed to pick up the pace."

They did. Reinforcing columns with rebard, steel, grout and new casings that, in some cases were oval and round.

If you were in the LA area at the time you may remember that a lot of people were afraid to stop under overpasses. To that, Failing says "there were people who were afraid of driving under overpasses at that time. And, we always encourage people to move out from under bridges. Retrofits are meant to be safe, but why take a risk."

 


 

When will it be ready ?

Did you know California has a new  ‘' Earthquake Early Warning Coordinator "? He's Doug Given, an energetic jocular accommodating scientist working out of the USGS in Pasadena on the lovely campus of Cal Tech. We spoke today about how ‘'earthquakes shake loose dollars" as an explanation for why Japan and Mexico (after massive killer quakes) developed comprehensive earthquake warning systems and the United States, in particular California is still in the prototype mode.    

He says scientists have a working demonstration in the field, and it's just a matter of money (perhaps 80 million a tiny fraction of the state's 25 billion dollar budget) to buy and install enough of the sensors around the state that would sense an earthquake and send a warning.  He showed me how it worked, with a loud computer generated voice issue a warning and and estimate of the length of time till you'd feel the shock waves spreading out from a quake epicenter. How much time would we have ?

Depends where you are relevant to the epicenter.  If it's a couple of hundred miles away, you might have a  minute to get under a desk, get away from windows, for automated systems to stop trains, for schools to instruct students to duck,cover, hold on, you get the idea. 

If you're in the Valley and the epicenter of the quake ( like Northridge in 94 ) is right there, you won't have any warning to speak of. What's even more bizarre about all this, and maybe bizarre is too strong a word, is that last year Governor Brown signed State Sen. Alex Padilla's bill mandating that the state develop a comprehensive early warning system, yet the bill didn't specify funding. It did specify  however, that no ‘'general fund'' money be used.  Why not ? Good question. Keep an eye on this one.  

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