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U.S. Geological Survey
Professional Papers 1553-A through 1553-D

Prepared in cooperation with the National Science Foundation

Societal Response

Coordinated by Dennis S. Mileti

The Loma Prieta Earthquake Professional Papers

The Loma Prieta Earthquake Professional Papers comprehensively document the magnitude 6.9 earthquake that shook the San Francisco and Monterey Bay regions on October 17, 1989. They contain almost 3000 pages written by 401 investigators of the earthquake. The investigations were funded by a special Congressional appropriation to the U.S. Geological Survey and National Science Foundation after the earthquake to improve understanding of both the complexity of earthquakes and how society can reduce losses in future earthquakes.

Using dogs to search for victims at collapsed department store, Pacific Garden Mall.  [C.E. Meyer, USGS photo]

Professional Paper 1553 describes how people and organizations responded to the earthquake and how the earthquake impacted people and society. The investigations evaluate the tools available to the research community to measure the nature, extent, and causes of damage and losses. They describe human behavior during and immediately after the earthquake and how citizens participated in emergency response. They review the challenges confronted by police and fire departments and disruptions to transbay transportations systems. And they survey the challenges of post-earthquake recovery. Some significant findings were:

  • Loma Prieta provided the first test of ATC-20, the red, yellow, and green tagging of buildings. It successful application has led to widespread use in other disasters including the September 11, 2001, New York City terrorist incident.

  • Most people responded calmly and without panic to the earthquake and acted to get themselves to a safe location.

  • Actions by people to help alleviate emergency conditions were proportional to the level of need at the community level.

  • Some solutions caused problems of their own. The police perimeter around the Cypress Viaduct isolated businesses from their customers leading to a loss of business and the evacuation of employees from those businesses hindered the movement of supplies to the disaster scene.

  • Emergency transbay ferry service was established 6 days after the earthquake, but required constant revision of service contracts and schedules.

  • The Loma Prieta earthquake produced minimal disruption to the regional economy. The total economic disruption resulted in maximum losses to the Gross Regional Product of $725 million in 1 month and $2.9 billion in 2 months, but 80% of the loss was recovered during the first 6 months of 1990. Approximately 7,100 workers were laid off.


This set of publications consists of the following Chapters:


These publications are part of a set of four multi-chapter USGS Professional Papers on the Loma Prieta, California, Earthquake of October 17, 1989. The other three consist of:

Professional Paper 1550, Earthquake Occurrence , Coordinators: William H. Bakun and William H. Prescott

Professional Paper 1551, Strong Ground Motion and Ground Failure, Coordinator: Thomas L. Holzer

Professional Paper 1552, Performance of the Built Environment, Coordinator, Thomas L. Holzer

For questions about the content of these reports, contact Tom Holzer


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URL of this page: http://pubs.usgs.gov/pp/pp1553/

Maintained by: Michael Diggles
Created: July 17, 2006
Last modified: March 9, 2009 (mfd)