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U.S. Geological Survey
Professional Paper 1552-A

Prepared in cooperation with the National Science Foundation

The Loma Prieta, California, Earthquake of October 17, 1989—Lifelines

Edited by Anshel J. Schiff


photo of three radio-antenna towers two of which are bent in half

To the general public who had their televisions tuned to watch the World Series, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake was a lifelines earthquake. It was the images seen around the world of the collapsed Cypress Street viaduct, with the frantic and heroic efforts to pull survivors from the structure that was billowing smoke; the collapsed section of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and subsequent home video of a car plunging off the open span; and the spectacular fire in the Marina District of San Francisco fed by a broken gasline. To many of the residents of the San Francisco Bay region, the relation of lifelines to the earthquake was characterized by sitting in the dark because of power outage, the inability to make telephone calls because of network congestion, and the slow and snarled traffic. Had the public been aware of the actions of the engineers and tradespeople working for the utilities and other lifeline organizations on the emergency response and restoration of lifelines, the lifeline characteristics of this earthquake would have been even more significant. Unobserved by the public were the warlike devastation in several electrical-power substations, the 13 miles of gas-distribution lines that had to be replaced in several communities, and the more than 1,200 leaks and breaks in water mains and service connections that had to be excavated and repaired.

Like the 1971 San Fernando, Calif., earthquake, which was a seminal event for activity to improve the earthquake performance of lifelines, the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake demonstrated that the tasks of preparing lifelines in “earthquake country” were incomplete-indeed, new lessons had to be learned.

This publication consists of the following articles:

  • Introduction, by Anshel J. Schiff

  • Electrical-power systems, by Anshel J. Schiff, Sam Swan, and Edward N. Matsuda

  • Communication systems, by Anshel J. Schiff, Alex Tang, Lawrence F. Wong, and Luis Cusa

  • Modeling the impact of the earthquake on telecommunications, by Michael L. Cohen

  • The media: Radio, television, and newspapers, by Richard J. Rappaport

  • Water and wastewater systems, by LeVal Lund, John McLaughlin, Curt Edwards, Gordon Laverty, Holly Cornell, Alvin R. Guerro, Michael Cassaro, Andries Godshack, George Brodt, Donald B. Ballantyne, Ronald Eguchi, Mark Pickett, Omar Abu-Yasein, Chenwun Lay, Anshel J. Schiff, James R. Blacklock, and Steven French

  • Water-distribution systems, by John Eidinger

  • Water- and wastewater-treatment plants, by William Heuback and Donald B. Ballantyne

  • Lessons learned by water and wastewater utilities, by Mark Pickett and Gordon Laverty

  • Transportation systems, by Joel Markowitz

  • Transportation systems - Airports, by Anshel J. Schiff and Luis Cusa

  • Transportation systems - Seaports, by Charles R. Farrar and A. Claude Griffin

  • Transportation systems - Passenger railways and buslines, by Stuart D. Werner and Anshel J. Schiff

  • Residential natural-gas piping and appliances, by Peter W. McDonough

  • Repair patterns for the gas-distribution system in San Francisco, by Joel Markowitz

Download the text of this publication as a 131-page PDF file (pp1552a.pdf; 6.9 MB)

For questions about the content of this report, contact Tom Holzer

This publication is part of the set of four multi-chapter USGS Professional Papers on the Loma Prieta, California, Earthquake of October 17, 1989:

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

Professional Paper 1553, Societal Response, Coordinator: Dennis S. Mileti

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