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Journal of damage assessment experience following the 1994 Los Angeles California earthquake.
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Occurring in January 1994 this earthquake killed at least 24 people and collapsed numerous buildings as well as sections of the California freeway.
The New York Times edition for 17 January 1994 (left) reported that the pre-dawn tremor leveled many buildings, left others askew and unsafe, and injured hundreds.
Dozens of fires also occurred as ruptured gas lines and gas leaks were ignited. Sorting through earthquake-damaged areas classified as red (destroyed), yellow (major damage), and green (safe to occupy) requires trained damage assessment teams who can make rapid but reliable damage assessment. Along with other agencies the American Red Cross needs this information to guide how and what assistance is provided in earthquake zones and in setting priorities of attention.
Following the Nortridge earthquake in 1994, LA authorities were receiving 300 calls/hr for building inspectors to tell people whether or not they could reenter their homes. Two of us present at a San Diego home inspection conference organized inspectors to assist the ARC in helping to provide that service.
Working as a volunteer to provide emergency damage assessment assistance for the American Red Cross, a handful of members of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors, and including the author, spent several weeks investigating both areas of major damage, including the sites of fatalities, and other areas where damage was minimal or even non-existent.
Photo at left: section of LA freeway that collapsed during the 1994 Northridge quake. L. a. drivers may have pretended to be cool following this earthquake, but I noticed that when traffic lights turned red, nobody wanted to sit with their car idling beneath sections of freeway that remained standing. Drivers would jockey to stop before the freeway underpass or to just push on through it in response to red lights.
This earthquake was particularly damaging in part because the movement it produced included a side-to-side lurching as well as vertical displacement. While engineering and architecture experts in seismic construction and earthquake damage have studied with care the damage caused by this and other earthquakes, both natural and manmade, some causes of damage were evident even to more humble home inspectors familiar with construction snafus.
Working as a damage assessment volunteer requires different thinking than typical building damage assessment performed by home inspectors and code compliance officers. The first question is "is the building still there?". Second, is the building standing and conceivably repairable. Even minor amounts of movement in a structure can render it not habitable if it has no safe working mechanical systems; the municipality does nto want squatters in unsanitary or unsafe buildings.
On arriving in Los Angeles we found that many people were very frightened - although we were charged with looking only at the outside of buildings, because I speak spanish we were asked into several buildings which were occupied by people afraid to stay therein - despite previous information from non-spanish speakers that it was ok. The language helped. Prelminary damage assessment had already been done in those areas, meaning that someone had already established whether there was any serious damage. However LA is so big that there remained very large areas that have not been examined even for PDA.
More details of the Northridge Meadows complex collapse and damage are shown in the next six photographs.
Two of us, D. Friedman and Ken Young, were also sent off to double-check for earthquake damage in Watts, an area still suffering from burnout and only limited re-building after the Watts riots that occurred August 11-17, 1965.
Driving up and down every street to screen for damage in the district required permission from and checking for damage reports from and with both local police and ... some other people in neighborhoods still not warmly welcoming outsiders creeping around their streets.
Following is the verbatim text of an original journal kept during this time. Some of the writing is embarrassing, some melodramatic, mostly the writing was a way to relieve stress and calm down after long days of tiring work for the American Red Cross.
QUAKE1.TXT 1/17/94 Earthquake Strikes LA
SPECIAL COVERAGE OF THE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA EARTHQUAKE
Special coverage of the earthquake which has struck Southern California is available online. GO EARTHQUAKE to reach a special menu from which you can select a special Earthquake News Clips folder within the Executive News Service, or you can access the Global Crises Forum or the California Forum. The News Clips folder is clipping stories from all the major news wires. The Global Crises and California Forums provide a venue for members to exchange and obtain information. Phone coverage in the Los Angeles area is sporadic, but members from the area are already logging back on. The ENS/Earthquake News Clips folder, the Global Crises Forum and the California Forum are all a part of CompuServe's extended news services.
Just Showing Up: finding the Red Cross in LA
QUAKE2 . TXT 1/21/94 5:41 PM to E Cawley
The demo has been useful for showing the sys to a very large nr of users and potential users standing room only at my talk, crowds around the terminals, pretty exciting . . . now of course the challenge is to see how many really sign up and use it when it goes public. The potential for pooled minds is what really excites me - ultimately should mean home inspectors can give home buyers better safer cheaper information - in the end it is entirely personal.
Disappointed in no quakes since here - LA is getting 300 calls/hr for building inspectors to tell people they can reenter their houses - a bunch of us will go up to LA to be deputized to help out - serendipitous (sp) that we had a cnf just south in S.D. - dont know if I'll go up or just offer tech support from remote
1/22/94 3:54 PM (noon PST) to P Galow I'm writing at noon on Sat - in process of being kicked out of the exhibit hall as they close it down for next user - should be home late Sunday night unless I get into the volunteer pgm to look at earthquake dmg in LA - I'll keep you posted. - Dan
1/23/94 - insert: add section on travel to LA, carpools, ASHI "candidate", border check, experience of Jim K in pre quake, waiting at the ARC center, compressed training session 4 hrs to 15 min to 5 mm, and finally, field work.
1/23/94 10:10 PM to Earthquake.lst
Writing a quick note from Red Cross HQ in Los Angeles - a group of ASHI Members - names & details to follow - met with Damage Assessment coordinator to volunteer services in assessing condition of properties in earthquake-damaged areas in and around LA today. I've asked Mara to cancel my appointment and to refer it to Steve Vermilye. My meeting with the CPSC will just be missed.
We went to the epiciter area - saw some remarkable damage - more remarkable is the predominant number of houses which are either undamaged or which sustained only minor damage. On the other hand, when it hits hard it's really hard.
I've made reservations to return to Pok on Thursday - arriving late that night - however if there's a real need I may extend here a bit longer - in which case I'll advise. There were no Ca guys here today except Jimmy Kuang who lives here in LA and who gave us a ride up from SanDiego. We had about 8 cars in the field, and were asked to look at specific problem addresses. Prelminary damage assessment had already been done in those areas, meaning that someone had already established whether there was *any* serious damage. However LA is so big that there remain very large areas that have not been exami ned for PDA - which some of us will doubtless do tomorrow.
Most of the first half of the day was spent waiting - processing thru Red Cross, getting registered, getting cars, and compressing a 4-hour PDA education class into 15 minutes. The ground feels quite solid at the moment. Probably greatest risk is if one wanders into a hostile area of LA. - or getting bitten by a hungry dog. Dan
A Damaged Infant Stroller
This visit will be educational, maybe sometimes fun, so far not scary. Writing 2nd msg from my hotel room - the R.C. has arranged to put up some of its volunteers at the Radison - I'm no the 10th floor.
Perhaps in appreciation for initiating an ASHI response to the disaster needs. Far more posh than I expected (nor want) - I'd made arrangements to sleep on someone's floor. If it's convenient for you you might give [my kids] a call and give the numbers and say I'm still fine. I'm usually to be out in the field during the day and by the time I'm free at night it's pretty late for me to call back east.
Saw amazing crashes today near Epicenter. And the ususal range of human behavior. One house has big damage, including stone falling on and crushing the car.
The neighbor saw us looking over the house (took photos) and wanted to know if I was from the insurance co - since some of the stones fell across into his driveway where they damaged a baby stroller. (This was in Granada Hills N of Northridge.) Here his neighbor is, destroyed, and he's looking at his stroller. I was able to hold my tongue.
I think tomorrow I'll be able to cover more territory not having to spend half the day getting organized. Between the emergency landing at O'Hare and the damage assessment work here, I'll probably be low on adrenalin when I get home. Maybe it'll produce a calmer guy. I am glad to have you to talk with. Did I give you the ASH! ONLINE test numbers and procedure? I'm not on there too much at the moment anyway - at least until this stuff is over. Daniel J
1/24/94 1:24 AM to David Hoff Got here this AM after just a few hours sleep - was in SanDiego at the annual ASHI Conf when I heard that 300 calls/hr were coming in to the Red Cross in LA for damage assessment needed to get people out of shelters and back home Seemed a great opportunity for ASHI to pitch in - recruited, promoted, and a bunch of us worked here today doing damage assessments - very interesting and not too scary. (Though two of my members had high pulse rates and RC wouldn't let them into the field until they calmed
Keeping in touch via Email since I'm on a westcoast schedule. Hope and trust you and Robin and Curtis and ? are doing fine.
Record Speed-Course in Damage Assessment Methods for Volunteers
1/25/94 2:33 AN to Ellen Moore and Linda Berman The attached is a note I sent to my sister - just in case the SIG thinks I'm here goofing off in the hotel: Monday 1/24/94 to family and my few friends:
A good part of Sunday was consumed with the usual disaster activity - processing and waiting; eventually cars were obtained and teams formed to send into the field - into specific problem areas to report on particular addresses.
As we complete damage assessment, areas are classified according to LA disaster criteria as red (destroyed) , yellow (Major damage) , and green (safe to occupy). Some of us were consumed with very small areas where severe damage, previously unreported, was discovered. Two teams were dispatched south of LA to areas where we had no reports of damage, but from whence had come complaints of inattention.
Two ARC Creeps Creep then Zoom Through Watts
With Ken Young I was the "team" to track the streets of Watts and surrounding districts. There was no earthquake damage at all, though we did have a few bad moments in unfriendly neighborhoods. The red cross on the car, along with traveling during daylight, was probably essential. In addition to working a grid pattern of Watts streets (driving slowly, looking for damage, raises the hackes of the turf -controllers) , we also spoke with local fire departments and police stations to ask if they had complaints of earthquake damage. There were none in that area.
Unlike the slow-mo driveby damage assessments of other neighborhoods, the local police, through his bulletproof glass public interface window suggested we just stay out - advice we didn't intend to follow. "Drive as fast as you can" he then advised. We started speeding up and down every street looking for any sign of a house that was damaged, askew, off its foundation, or cracked glass - nothing.
In the middle of a very modest but clean neighborhood of bungalos a car suddenly passes us and screeches to a halt, spun across and blocking the road. Another appears and does the same behind us. We sit in silence. Ken, whom I learn only later, is an ex cop, stares ahead saying nothing.
About six guys amble up to our little rental car with my little red cross tag in the left corner of the dashboard. Everyone is waiting for ... somebody. Who soon shows up and by size, swagger, and the deference he's shown, is clearly a neighborhood boss. Ken figures we're intruders. And dead.
I figure "Heck we're the good guys, here to look for people needing assistance after the quake." which I'm sure I can explain. And do. And we're sent on our way. Later Ken says in his experience in some tough neighborhoods you don't get to explain. Some young tough, just to show his buddies he's fearless, may just walk up, poke an automatic through your window and ... BLAM! At least that's what he figured.
Sherman Oaks Earthquake Damage
We also visited Sherman Oaks, one of the more severely hit areas northwest of Central LA, to study some of the more severe damage. It was obvious that in addition to the luck of the draw common to such disasters, construction practices made a big difference - not in actually avoiding building damage, but in avoiding building collapse. Structures that held together permitted occupants to escape. Others collapsed, crushing entire floors from which escape was not much short of miraculous.
At wood-frame buildings I found a first floor that had crushed into the parking gharage below noses and tails of cars poking from the debris, and in one case, a floor that was nearly vertical in one apartment. No one could have avoided fall ing into the space below had they been in that unit.
At a multistory building which had severe damage I photographed steel connections which secured columns to foundations - which had bent but not broken, probably keeping the building from crushing the first floor.
At another neighboring building with worse damage from lateral movement, I found and photographed the complete ripping apart of wood frame connections.
Where nails were improperly driven (too few, or straight rather than toe-nailing) to secure studs to rim joists or to plates, the components simply pulled apart. Where nailing was proper and stronger, the wood simply fractured and ripped apart, permitting just as much movement. It made no difference.
6" steel Lally columns imbedded in a concrete foundation wall were simply bent over, but at least kept the floor above from collapsing.
Lateral Wagging Flips Buildings to One Side
Several apartment buildings and one house I photographed had been shifted about three feet to one side, and in one case, also several feet to the rear. I saw construction over crawl spaces, where a frame knee wall sat atop the foundation, atop which continued additional floor and wall structrures.
These buildings, subject to severe movement, simply broke as a hinge at the top of the knee wall, levering the building over and dropping it down the height of the original wall.
In fact much of the damage is unusual because buildings were bounced vertically rather than the more common lateral movement. At many windows and other rectangular building components we see a consistent X-type crack pattern radiating from the four corners of the rectangle of window or other item. Some building columns broke in this X-pattern, lowering the structure as a result.
A number of apartments fell into and onto cars parked below in their parking garages.
Single-family homes, often smaller bungalos, fared better than larger two and three story apartments and condos - it appears that the larger bulidings were ripped apart by forces that the smaller building often rode out.
While we found some houses with very severe damage, even totally destroyed, the most common damage was fallen chimneys and masonry. In one instance a chimney had been constructed without steel re-bar (required by local codes) and teh chimney had fallen through the roof, breaking rafters, an d almost certainly continuing through the ceilings into the rooms below
The roof had been stripped and repairs were in process when we found the property. Masonry veneers were also commonly fallen, in some cases damaging cars or other building components. I think I mentioned the round stone veneer that crushed the car in a previous message.
Breaking the Rules to Rescue a Frog
The building is really askew, at about a 30 degree angle, but there is a tempting window close to ground level. We clamber inside, leaving the owner and daughter a safe distance away holding our clipboard.
Inside the building it was as if all posessions had been run through a blender.
Photo at left: Earthquake, glass frog survivor of the 1994 Northridge Earthquake.
Imagine if you could pick up an entire house, you're some kind of strong giant. So you pick up this house and then shake it up and down to homogenize everything inside. Beds are in the bathroom, pots are under the bed, clothes are everwhere, dishes are smashed to smithereens, plants are upside down, just about everything is broken.
Broken debris piled deep on floors is moving dangerously and the floor, at a steep angle with respect to level, is obviously ready to collapse. The floor shook from passage. (We inspected below before entering this area.) The real danger is probably to be in such a building if there is an aftershock. Remarkably, amidst broken debris we found some delicate items (including frogs) unbroken, but often tossed into odd locations or buried with other items that' had been nowhere together originally.
The occupant had been a collector of frog sculptures - a Native American icon of renewal and cleansing. Wonderfully, several of the frogs have survived being in the Northridge blender and are scattered about. In a flower pot that retained its dirt and is more or less upright I spot a small glass frog who has landed on his head in the soil. He joins his sisters to be rescued. We retrieve personal items: photographs, ceramic and glass frogs, some clothing, a couple of dishes, anything we can grab and carry without falling through the floor.
Suddenly the building begins to make an awful moaning noise. We make our way as fast as we can without shaking anything and clamber back outside of the window, dropping to the ground.
The collection of salvaged photographs, clothing, and most important, the frogs is shown, then handed over to the owner who, waiting a safe distance away, beams with pleasure. Adding this detail this nineteen years later I understand that when you've got nothing left, a few mementos and photographs are indeed everything.
She and I discussed frog karma (remember this is California) and she was kind enough to give me one of her rescued frogs, "Earthquake" who, accompanied me back to Poughkeepsie and who posed for a cameo appearance just above.
It was common to find people still trying to salvage their belongings from wrecked buildings. Many asked for some help or reassurance. Sometimes simply a hug was what was required. Hugs are pretty easy to donate.
Anybody Speak Spanish?
In Spanish-speaking neighborhoods there was a particular problem that some of the original city inspectors had delcared buildings safe, but there was no explanation in Spanish. As I can stumble along in Sp. I looked at a few apartment buildings for occupants, and explained the difference between structural damage and cracked plaster. Not knowing construction terms was not much of a problem since niether did the occupants. We talked about the difference between the bones of the body and damage to its skin.
That approach worked well enough as a fear reduction step that Family Services and Mental Health services allowed me to suggest some ways to explain to the occupants what it is that damage assessment workers are doing and how they decide a building is safe. The explanation seems to work better than just saying "it's safe, go on back in" especially since they see cracks everywhere in plaster interiors and stuccoed exteriors. Since there are 50-70 family assistance volunteers arriving every few hours, I elected to write out my fear-reduction suggestion (for use by the training staff) rather than trying to continue an endless series of 10 minute lectures.
The Press at Large
In areas of the most obvious dramatic damage there are often photographers visible prowling for "good shots" - I feel we should be a bit sensitive about gawking photographs. One collapsed apartment building bore a sign "If you're going to take photographs at least offer to help the victims." But no one with whom I spoke objected to photodocurnentation of construction details and failures such as we were doing. I think the people-photos, while more personally interesting, may be more intrusive as well. So yo u'll probably find that more human element missing from my photographs.
Neighbors Help Neighbors
Neighbors are still helping neighbors. One man described to me how he'd restored water pressure to his apartment, so that everyone in the building at least had a working toilet to use. Of course his apartment had no walls but other arrangements were made for privacy. There are still a very large number of people living in tents and in the parks. As there was a chilly rain tonight, doubtless there are alot of uncomfortable people.
A large part of the city still has not been examined in detail - though it's likely that the worst large areas have been identified. A preliminary estimate of damage from just a portion of central LA was completed tonight, and was close to one billion dollars.
We were joined at the end of the day by additional ASHI members who'd arrived and been assigned field work during the day. Tomorrow we'll be taking color-coded maps to a number of service centers where we'll use them to explain the condition of various neighborhoods. (The ASHI Team spent quite some time coloring maps - expaning their technica 1 skills with magic markers in the process.) - Dan
QUAKE4 . TXT
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