Table of Contents Geologic Hazards

USGS Response to an Urban Earthquake -- Northridge 94


The urban centers of our Nation provide our people with seemingly unlimited employment, social, and cultural opportunities as a result of the complex interactions of a diverse population embedded in an highly-engineered environment. Catastrophic events in one or more of the natural earth systems which underlie or envelop urban environment can have radical effects on the integrity and survivability of that environment. Earthquakes have for centuries been the source of cataclysmic events on cities throughout the world. Unlike many other earth processes, the effects of major earthquakes transcend all political, social, and geomorphic boundaries and can have decided impact on cities tens to hundreds of kilometers from the epicenter. In modern cities, where buildings, transportation corridors, and lifelines are complexly interrelated, the life, economic, and social vulnerabilities in the face of a major earthquake can be particularly acute.

The 1994 Northridge Earthquake was a major test for parts of what many consider the most earthquake-prepared and best-engineered metropolitan region in the United States. While the combined efforts of concerned professionals at all levels of government, academia, and the private sector have produced significant advances in our knowledge of the causes and potential effects of earthquakes, and of ways to reduce their impact, it remains unfortunately true that actual earthquakes provide important opportunities to test those advances in our knowledge.

In the hours and days following the Northridge Earthquake, the four Federal member agencies of the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) laid out a detailed plan for collecting, analyzing, archiving, and reporting information that would benefit the Nation in future earthquake hazards reduction efforts. Congress provided a special appropriation to FEMA to carry out this plan and FEMA distributed those funds to the four NEHRP agencies. The USGS was responsible for conducting geophysical and geological investigations in support of the NEHRP Post-earthquake Study.

For the past 2 years, the USGS has rigorously pursued over 40 tasks focused on the USGS Northridge Earthquake Mission. This document is a summary report of the USGS findings; additional technical reports on specific USGS tasks are appearing in various scientific journals and USGS publications.

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