The Loma Prieta, California, Earthquake of October 17, 1989: Societal Response

Professional Paper 1553

Prepared in cooperation with the National Science Foundation



Professional Paper 1553 describes how people and organizations responded to the earthquake and how the earthquake impacted people and society. The investigations evaluate the tools available to the research community to measure the nature, extent, and causes of damage and losses. They describe human behavior during and immediately after the earthquake and how citizens participated in emergency response. They review the challenges confronted by police and fire departments and disruptions to transbay transportations systems. And they survey the challenges of post-earthquake recovery. Some significant findings were: * Loma Prieta provided the first test of ATC-20, the red, yellow, and green tagging of buildings. It successful application has led to widespread use in other disasters including the September 11, 2001, New York City terrorist incident. * Most people responded calmly and without panic to the earthquake and acted to get themselves to a safe location. * Actions by people to help alleviate emergency conditions were proportional to the level of need at the community level. * Some solutions caused problems of their own. The police perimeter around the Cypress Viaduct isolated businesses from their customers leading to a loss of business and the evacuation of employees from those businesses hindered the movement of supplies to the disaster scene. * Emergency transbay ferry service was established 6 days after the earthquake, but required constant revision of service contracts and schedules. * The Loma Prieta earthquake produced minimal disruption to the regional economy. The total economic disruption resulted in maximum losses to the Gross Regional Product of $725 million in 1 month and $2.9 billion in 2 months, but 80% of the loss was recovered during the first 6 months of 1990. Approximately 7,100 workers were laid off.

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
The Loma Prieta, California, Earthquake of October 17, 1989: Societal Response
Series title:
Professional Paper
Series number:
Year Published:
Geological Survey (U.S.)
Contributing office(s):
Earthquake Hazards Program
Chapters A-D