Mitigation and preparedness before an earthquake is critical to avoid disaster after one occurs. Failure to prepare for a major temblor will endanger not only thousands of lives but the states economic viability and future as well. Here are a list of five issues that will impact California’s ability to recover.

Collapsed Buildings

California is vulnerable because of thousands of older buildings that are at particular risk of collapse. All non-reinforced masonry buildings within 15 miles of the San Andreas Fault could be completely destroyed, killing many people inside.

There are other problematic buildings as well. Among them are soft first-story buildings, which have open parking or commercial space on the first floor and housing on higher floors built prior to recent codes. One such building, the Northridge Meadows apartment complex, collapsed during the 1994 earthquake and killed 16 people. Reinforced concrete buildings, such as the Olive View Hospital that collapsed in the Sylmar quake of 1971, are also considered dangerous. 

Failure of the Water Deliver System

A major quake would cripple California’s water system largely due to aging infrastructure. Some water pipes in Los Angeles, for example, are more than 100 years old and in poor condition. In addition, much of the water system throughout the region is made with AC piping, which is very brittle. The California ShakeOut study estimated that the worst hit areas may not have water on tap for six months.

Shakepotentialmap48No Power for Weeks

Outages could last two to three weeks in duration with the bulk of the power starting to come back on within 24 to 72 hours. This will dramatically affect response and recovery efforts.

Freeway and Road Damage

California may be in the best shape when it comes to transportation. After freeways came down in San Francisco in 1989 and in Los Angeles in 1994, many were rebuilt or retrofitted.  CalTrans, which is responsible for the design, construction, maintenance and operation of the state’s highway system, has spent many billions of dollars on seismic retrofitting of the state’s freeway infrastructure.  However, many bridges are owned locally by cities or counties that don’t have the funds to upgrade.

The risks are real as there are lots of inter-dependencies within the region’s infrastructure. A building that collapses, for example, creates debris on the road. And when water pipes break, they can undermine the road bed and wash things out.


Hospital are another area of good news. Many hospitals are now in compliance with state seismic requirements through building upgrades or establishing new buildings. Due to changes in regulations hospitals are also now developing business continuity and recovery plans to help them return to normal status following a devastating incident.

And that is good news!