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[Illustration: fema symbol
federal emergency
management agency]

Washington, D.C. 20472
November 1980




I. Executive Summary of Findings, Issues, and Actions 1

II. Geologic Earthquake Scenarios 15

III. Assessment of Losses for Selected Potential
California Earthquakes 21

IV. An Assessment of the Current State of Readiness
Capability of Federal, State, and Local
Governments for Earthquake Response 27

V. An Assessment of the Social Impacts 35


1. Copies of Correspondence Between President
Carter and Governor Brown 37

2. Current California and Federal Earthquake
Response Planning 43

3. California Assembly Bill No. 2202 53





After viewing the destruction wrought by the eruption of Mt. St.
Helens in Washington State in May 1980, President Carter became
concerned about the impacts of a similar event of low probability but
high damage potential, namely a catastrophic earthquake in California,
and the state of readiness to cope with the impacts of such an event.

As a result of the President's concern, an _ad hoc_ committee of the
National Security Council was formed to conduct a government review of
the consequences of, and preparation for such an event. In addition to
the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Committee included
representatives from the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the
United States Geological Survey of the Department of the Interior, the
Department of Defense, the Department of Transportation, and the
National Communications System, at the Federal level; State of
California agencies and California local governments at the State and
local levels; and consultants from the private sector. During the
summer of 1980, the participants in this review prepared working papers
on relevant issues and problem areas for the consideration of the _ad
hoc_ committee. Pertinent facts, conclusions and recommendations were
reviewed with the Governor of the State of California. The President
reviewed the _ad hoc_ committee's findings and approved the
recommendations for Federal action. This report summarizes the results
of the assessment and notes these actions.

A number of Federal legislative and administrative actions have been
taken to bring about, in the near future, an increased capability to
respond to such an event. The Earthquake Hazards Reduction Act of 1977
(P.L. 95-124) authorizes a coordinated and structured program to
identify earthquake risks and prepare to lessen or mitigate their
impacts by a variety of means. The coordination of this program, the
National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program (NEHRP), is the
responsibility of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA),
which is charged with focusing Federal efforts to respond to
emergencies of all types and lessen their impacts before they occur.
The NEHRP has six high-priority thrusts:

» Overall coordination of Federal departments and agencies'

» Maintenance of a comprehensive program of research and
development for earthquake prediction and hazards

» Leadership and support of the Federal Interagency
Committee on Seismic Safety in Construction as it develops
seismic design and construction standards for use in
Federal projects

» Development of response plans and assistance to State and
local governments in the preparation of their plans

» Analysis of the ability of financial institutions to
perform their functions after a creditable prediction of
an earthquake as well as after an event, together with an
exploration of the feasibility of using these institutions
to foster hazard reduction

» An examination of the appropriate role of insurance in
mitigating the impacts of earthquakes.

More recently, a cooperative Federal, State, local, and private-sector
effort was initiated to prepare for responding to a credible
large-magnitude earthquake, or its prediction, in Southern California.


The review provided the overall assessment that the Nation is
essentially unprepared for the catastrophic earthquake (with a
probability greater than 50 percent) that must be expected in
California in the next three decades. While current response plans and
preparedness measures may be adequate for moderate earthquakes,
Federal, State, and local officials agree that preparations are
woefully inadequate to cope with the damage and casualties from a
catastrophic earthquake, and with the disruptions in communications,
social fabric, and governmental structure that may follow. Because of
the large concentration of population and industry, the impacts of
such an earthquake would surpass those of any natural disaster thus
far experienced by the Nation. Indeed, the United States has not
suffered any disaster of this magnitude on its own territory since the
Civil War.

The basis for this overall assessment is summarized below and
discussed in more detail in the subsequent chapters of this report.


Earth scientists unanimously agree on the inevitability of major
earthquakes in California. The gradual movement of the Pacific Plate
relative to the North American Plate leads to the inexorable
concentration of strain along the San Andreas and related fault
systems. While some of this strain is released by moderate and smaller
earthquakes and by slippage without earthquakes, geologic studies
indicate that the vast bulk of the strain is released through the
occurrence of major earthquakes - that is, earthquakes with Richter
magnitudes of 7.0 and larger and capable of widespread damage in a
developed region. Along the Southern San Andreas fault, some 30 miles
from Los Angeles, for example, geologists can demonstrate that at
least eight major earthquakes have occurred in the past 1,200 years
with an average spacing in time of 140 years, plus or minus 30 years.
The last such event occurred in 1857. Based on these statistics and
other geophysical observations, geologists estimate that the
probability for the recurrence of a similar earthquake is currently as
large as 2 to 5 percent per year and greater than 50 percent in the
next 30 years. Geologic evidence also indicates other faults capable
of generating major earthquakes in other locations near urban centers
in California, including San Francisco-Oakland, the immediate Los
Angeles region, and San Diego. Seven potential events have been
postulated for purposes of this review and are discussed in chapter
II. The current estimated probability for a major earthquake in these
other locations is smaller, but significant. The aggregate probability
for a catastrophic earthquake in the whole of California in the next
three decades is well in excess of 50 percent.


Casualties and property damage estimates for four of the most likely
catastrophic earthquakes in California were prepared to form a basis
for emergency preparedness and response. Chapter III gives details on
these estimates. Deaths and injuries would occur principally because
of the failure of man-made structures, particularly older, multistory,
and unreinforced brick masonry buildings built before the adoption of
earthquake-resistant building codes. Experience has shown that some
modern multistory buildings - constructed as recently as the late
1960's but not adequately designed or erected to meet the current
understanding of requirements for seismic resistance - are also subject
to failure. Strong ground shaking, which is the primary cause of
damage during earthquakes, often extends over vast areas. For example,
in an earthquake similar to that which occurred in 1857, strong ground
shaking (above the threshold for causing damage) would extend in a
broad strip along the Southern San Andreas fault, about 250 miles long
and 100 miles wide, and include almost all of the Los Angeles-San
Bernardino metropolitan area, and all of Ventura, Santa Barbara, San
Luis Obispo, and Kern counties.

For the most probable catastrophic earthquake - a Richter magnitude 8+
earthquake similar to that of 1857, which occurred along the Southern
San Andreas fault - estimates of fatalities range from about 3,000, if
the earthquake were to occur at 2:30 a.m. when the population is
relatively safe at home, to more than 13,000, if the earthquake were to
occur at 4:30 p.m. on a weekday, when much of the population is either
in office buildings or on the streets. Injuries serious enough to
require hospitalization under normal circumstances are estimated to be
about four times as great as fatalities. For the less likely prospect
of a Richter magnitude 7.5 earthquake on the Newport-Inglewood fault in
the immediate Los Angeles area, fatalities are estimated to be about
4,000 to 23,000, at the same respective times. Such an earthquake,
despite its smaller magnitude, would be more destructive because of its
relative proximity to the most heavily developed regions; however, the
probability of this event is estimated to be only about 0.1 percent per
year. Smaller magnitude - and consequently less damaging - earthquakes
are anticipated with greater frequency on a number of fault systems in

In either of these earthquakes, casualties could surpass the previous
single greatest loss of life in the United States due to a natural
disaster, which was about 6,000 persons killed when a hurricane and
storm surge struck the Galveston area of the Texas coast in 1900. The
highest loss of life due to earthquakes in the United States occurred
in San Francisco in 1906, when 700 people were killed. By way of
comparison (in spite of the vast differences in building design and
practices and socioeconomic systems) the devastating 1976 Tangshan
earthquake in China caused fatalities ranging from the official
Chinese Government figure of 242,000 to unofficial estimates as high
as 700,000. Fortunately, building practices in the United States
preclude such a massive loss of life.

Property losses are expected to be higher than in any past earthquake
in the United States. For example, San Francisco in 1906, and
Anchorage in 1964, were both much less developed than today when they
were hit by earthquakes. And the San Fernando earthquake in 1971, was
only a moderate shock that struck on the fringe of a large urban area.
Each of these three earthquakes caused damage estimated at about $0.5
billion in the then current dollars. Estimates of property damage for
the most probable catastrophic earthquake on the Southern San Andreas
(Richter magnitude 8+) and for the less probable but more damaging one
(Richter magnitude 7.5) on the Newport-Inglewood fault, are about $15
billion and $70 billion respectively. By comparison, tropical storm
Agnes caused the largest economic loss due to a natural disaster in
the United States to date but it amounted to only $3.5 billion (in
1972 dollars).

It should be noted, however, that substantial uncertainty exists in
casualty and property damage estimates because they are based on
experience with only moderate earthquakes in the United States (such
as the 1971 San Fernando earthquake) and experience in other countries
where buildings are generally less resistant to damage. The
uncertainty is so large that the estimated impacts could be off by a
factor of two or three, either too high or too low. Even if these
lowest estimates prevail, however, the assessment about preparedness
and the capability to respond to the disasters discussed in this
report would be substantially unchanged.

Assuming a catastrophic earthquake, a variety of secondary problems
could also be expected. Search and rescue operations - requiring heavy
equipment to move debris - would be needed to free people trapped in
collapsed buildings. It is likely that injuries, particularly those
immediately after the event, could overwhelm medical capabilities,
necessitating a system of allocating medical resources to those who
could be helped the most. Numerous local fires must be expected;
nevertheless, a conflagration such as that which followed the Tokyo
earthquake of 1923, or the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, is
improbable, unless a "Santa Ana type" wind pattern is in effect. Since
the near failure of a dam in the San Fernando, California, earthquake
of 1971 (which was a moderate event), substantial progress has been
made in California to reduce the hazard from dams, in some cases
through reconstruction. For planning purposes, however, experts
believe that the failure of at least one dam should be anticipated
during a catastrophic earthquake in either the Los Angeles or San
Francisco regions.

Experience in past earthquakes, particularly the 1971 San Fernando
earthquake, has demonstrated the potential vulnerability of commercial
telephone service to earthquakes, including the possibility of damage
to switching facilities from ground shaking and rupture of underground
cables that cross faults. This is especially serious because
immediately following earthquakes, public demand for telephone
services increases drastically. This increased demand overloads the
capability of the system, even if it had not been damaged, and
therefore management action to reduce the availability of service to
non-priority users and to accommodate emergency calls is mandatory.
Radio-based communication systems, particularly those not requiring
commercial power, are relatively safe from damage, although some must
be anticipated. The redundancy of existing communication systems,
including those designed for emergency use, means that some capability
for communicating with the affected region from the outside would
almost surely exist. Restoration of service by the commercial carriers
should begin within 24 to 72 hours as a result of maintenance and
management actions; however, total restoration of service would take
significantly longer.

While numerous agencies have the capability for emergency
communication within themselves, non-telephonic communication among
entities and agencies in the affected area is minimal. This is true
for Federal, State, and local agencies. This weakness has been pointed
out repeatedly by earthquake response exercises, and the problem is
raised by almost every emergency preparedness official at every level
of government. Consequently, a major problem for resolution is the
operational integration of communications systems and networks among
the relevant Federal, State, and local agencies.

Because of their network-like character, most systems for
transportation and water and power generation and distribution, as a
whole, are resistant to failure, despite potentially severe local
damage. These systems would suffer serious local outages, particularly
in the first several days after the event, but would resume service
over a few weeks to months. The principal difficulty would be the
greatly increased need for these systems in the first few days after
the event, when lifesaving activities would be paramount.

Portions of the San Francisco Bay Area and of the Los Angeles Area
contain substantial concentrations of manufacturing capacity for
guided missiles and space vehicles, semiconductors, aircraft parts,
electronic computing equipment, and airframes. Their specific
vulnerability to the postulated earthquakes was not analyzed. In the
event of major damage, however, the long-term impacts may be mitigated
somewhat by such measures as the use of underutilized capacity located
elsewhere, substitution of capacity from other industries, imports,
use of other products, and drawing-down of inventories.

Since we have not recently experienced a catastrophic earthquake in
the United States, there are many unknowns which must be estimated
with best judgment. This is true particularly for the response of
individuals as well as governmental and other institutions. Popular
assumptions of post-disaster behavior include antisocial behavior and
the need for martial law, the breakdown of government institutions,
and the requirement for the quick assertion of outside leadership and
control. Practical experience and field studies of disasters, however,
indicate that these assumptions are not necessarily correct. On the
contrary, the impacts of the disaster commonly produce a sense of
solidarity and cooperativeness among the survivors. Nonetheless, the
perception remains among emergency response officials that there will
be an increased need for law enforcement following the event.

Another major unknown involves whether a medium or short-term warning
of the event would be possible and how such a warning could be
utilized most effectively. The technology for earthquake prediction is
in an early stage of development and, therefore it is problematical
that researchers will succeed in issuing a short-term warning before a
catastrophic earthquake, should the event occur in the next few
years. Yet as research progresses, scientifically-based,
intermediate-term warnings are possible, but subject to a high degree
of uncertainty. Consequently, response preparations must be made for
both an earthquake without warning, and one with a short-or
intermediate-term warning, possibly with a significant level of


Planning for response to a large-scale disaster is a complicated
process encompassing many variables such as population densities and
distribution characteristics; land-use patterns and construction
techniques; geographical configurations; vulnerability of
transportation; communications and other lifeline systems; complex
response operations; long-term physical, social, and economic recovery
policies. These factors, together with the realization that an
earthquake has the potential for being the greatest single-event
catastrophe in California, make it incumbent upon the State to
maintain as high a level of emergency readiness as is practicable, and
to provide guidance and assistance to local jurisdictions desiring to
plan and prepare for such events. Annex 2 reviews the general nature
of preparedness planning and the basic characteristics of California
and Federal Government plans.

Federal, State, and local emergency response capabilities are judged
to be adequate for moderate earthquakes - those that are most likely to
occur frequently in California and cause property damage in the range
of $1 billion. Such an event, however, would severely tax existing
resources and provide a major test of management relationships among
different governmental levels. Federal, State, and local officials,
however, are quick to point out serious shortcomings in their ability
to respond to a catastrophic earthquake. An analysis of the
preparedness posture of 60 local governments, 34 California State
organizations, and 17 Federal agencies, carried out by the California
Office of Emergency Services (OES) and FEMA, indicates that response
to such an earthquake would become disorganized and largely
ineffective. Many governmental units have generalized earthquake
response plans, some have tailored earthquake plans, and several plans
are regularly exercised. The coordination of these plans among
jurisdictions, agencies, and levels of government, however, is
inadequate. In addition, the potential for prediction is not
incorporated; long-term recovery issues are not considered; and
communications problems are significant, as discussed above. Overall,
Federal preparedness is deficient at this time. Early reaction to a
catastrophic event would likely be characterized by delays,
ineffective response, and ineffectively coordinated delivery of

FEMA Region IX (San Francisco) has drafted an Earthquake Response Plan
for the San Francisco Bay area. Annex 2 gives an overview of this
draft plan. This is a site-specific plan for response to potential
catastrophic earthquake occurrences. The emergency response portion
relies upon a decentralized approach which provides for Federal
disaster support activities to be assigned to selected Federal
agencies by mission assignment letters. No specific plans have been
prepared in this detail for other seismic risk areas, although it is
expected that the Bay Area plan could be easily adapted to other
areas. The Department of Defense and the Department of Transportation
are developing detailed earthquake plans that would ensure a
well-organized and adequate response to mission assignments for a
major earthquake. The plans of other agencies need further

Very significant capabilities to assist in emergency response exist
within the California National Guard, California Highway Patrol, the
Departments of Health Services and Transportation, and the U.S.
Department of Defense. Capabilities exist for such lifesaving
activities as _aerial reconnaissance, search and rescue, emergency
medical services, emergency construction and repair, communications,
and emergency housing and food_. Current estimates by both Federal and
State officials, however, indicate that at least 6 to 8 hours would be
required before personnel and equipment can be mobilized and begin
initial deployment to the affected area. During the period before the
arrival of significant outside assistance critical to the saving of
lives (especially of those trapped in collapsed buildings), the public
would be forced to rely largely upon its own resources for search and
rescue, first aid, and general lifesaving actions. The current level
of public preparation for this critical phase of response can be
described as only minimal. Much of the current state of preparedness
arises from past programs aimed at a wide spectrum of emergencies,
particularly civil defense against nuclear attack. New or strengthened
programs are needed to enhance public preparedness.

FEMA has recently entered into a cooperative effort with California
State and local governments to prepare an integrated prototype
preparedness plan to respond to a catastrophic earthquake in Southern
California or to a prediction of such an event. The plan's completion,
in late 1981, promises to improve substantially the state of readiness
to respond to the prediction and the occurrence of an earthquake in
that area and to provide a model which could be applied to other
earthquake-prone regions of California and the rest of the country.


The _ad hoc_ committee responsible for this review developed several
significant findings related to the implications of major earthquakes
in California and our capabilities to respond to them. It then
identified major relevant issues raised by these findings and caused a
number of actions to be taken. A brief discussion of the results of
its review follows.

1. Leadership

=Finding=: _Effective leadership at all governmental levels is the

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