Keeping Lifelines Alive

by Teresa Austin, Assistant Editor; Civil Engineering Magazine, ASCE World Headquarters, 345 East 47th Street, New York City, NY.,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1990, Vol. 60, Issue 3, Pg. 58-59

Document Type: Feature article


There were no city water supplies to fight the fires in San Francisco after last year's earthquake. The fires were brought under control because of an historic auxiliary water system and a unique portable water supply system. After the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, when 25,000 buildings burned, the insurance industry doubled the city's rates until it built an auxiliary water system, separate from the city's water system. Completed in 1912, the high-pressure, redundant system incorporates a 10 million gallon reservoir with two pressure-reducing tanks, two emergency shoreline salt-water pumping stations, a 121 mi pipe network which distributes water to auxiliary system hydrants, fireboats that can hook up to manifolds and 150 underground cisterns that contain 75,000 gal of water. Voters approved extension of the system in a 1986 bond issue. Construction is now underway on an upgrade of the auxiliary system with 21 mi of pipe, 300 hydrants, 95 cisterns and a new smart valve system in which 80 valves will be radio-controlled to aid in isolating leaks. San Francisco was also saved by a portable water system. A portable hydrant, invented by assistant fire chief Frank Blackburn, is used to take water off the supply main through special large-diameter hoses. The portable unit was deployed and within 20 min after its arrival, 5 in hoses and portable hydrants were laid out in what amounted to an above ground water system.

Subject Headings: Fires | Water tanks | Salt water | Lifeline systems | Earthquakes | Pressure distribution | Pumping stations | Water pipelines

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