LOOKBACK: Documentary Captures Sights, Sounds of Northridge Quake in 1994

The 6.7 magnitude earthquake began around 4:30 a.m. with violent shaking that lasted 10 to 20 seconds. According to sensors in the area, it was among the strongest and fastest ground movement recorded in North America. In its wake, the shaking left 57 residents of Los Angeles County dead and more than 11,800 residents of Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties injured.

Below is a documentary commissioned by the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services in 1995 that captures that sometimes shocking and disastrous impacts of the Northridge earthquake of the prior year.

“This disaster helped shape the face of modern emergency management in California, a model that is replicated around the U.S. and in many countries around the globe,” said California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci. “It was a powerful and shocking moment in our history. It reinforces that an earthquake can happen at any time and have devastating consequences. All emergencies have lessons to learn from them, but this one especially propelled our emergency plans to be more comprehensive.”

Ghilarducci was a deputy chief with the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services at the time of the Northridge earthquake.

This disaster was the 11th biggest temblor in Southern California and left 3,000 residential and commercial buildings unsafe for occupancy or re-entry. Another 11,500 buildings were accessible at the time for only limited entry. The earth below Los Angeles was unstable even after the initial heavy shaking, more than 11,000 aftershocks vibrated through the area until December 1994.

With the support of more than 1,700 fire personnel and four of the six California-based Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Task Forces based outside of Los Angeles County, mobilized by the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, local responders were able to suppress all of the major fires and successfully extract 29 people trapped in collapsed buildings and cars by day’s end.

Since Northridge, local and state agencies have continued to work with their federal partners, volunteer organizations, the seismological community and the private sector to develop and refine emergency plans and procedures for a variety of emergencies, including catastrophic earthquakes in the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California. Members of California’s emergency management community and other stakeholders in preparedness have also worked to enhance preparedness for a catastrophic earthquake in the Bay Area and Southern California as well as a variety of other major disasters, by both correcting gaps identified in the state’s annual scenario-based Golden Guardian exercise and encouraging the public to prepare through public education efforts such as the Great California ShakeOut.

Seismologists are confident that the Bay Area and Southern California each are likely to experience an earthquake equal in magnitude to, if not larger than, the Northridge earthquake within the next 30 years. Recent research indicates there’s a possibility an earthquake on the San Andreas Fault could simultaneously impact both Northern and Southern California, putting an even larger strain on local and state emergency-response resources throughout California.

Related Links:

ShakeOut Comes to Northridge


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