Northridge: Questioning Our Codes

by Virginia Fairweather, Editor in Chief; Civil Engineering Magazine, ASCE World Headquarters, 345 East 47th Street, New York City, NY. 47th St., New York, NY 10017,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1994, Vol. 64, Issue 6, Pg. 60-63

Document Type: Feature article


The earthquake that struck Southern California at 4:31 A.M. Pacific Time on January 17, 1994 was responsible for 61 deaths, more than 9,000 injuries and $30 million in damages. From its epicenter in the Northridge section of the San Fernando Valley, about 20 mi northwest of downtown Los Angeles, the 6.6 Richter magnitude earthquake, located on a previously unmapped fault, was felt from San Diego to Las Vegas. The Northridge earthquake collapsed six bridges on major freeways, crippling highway travel in auto-dependent Los Angeles; broke natural gas and water pipelines; and damaged or destroyed 45,000 residences alone. The extent and broad scope of the damage—affecting virtually every aspect of the built environment—was extraordinary, given the relatively moderate intensity of the earthquake. In the days after the earthquake, CE's editors spoke with volunteers on site, seismic experts receiving early reports, Caltrans officials and others about their impressions of the damage and its implications for retrofit of existing structures and future design of bridges, buildings and lifelines.

Subject Headings: Earthquakes | Standards and codes | Bridge failures | Highway bridges | Seismic design | Bridge design | Building design | Light rail transit | United States | California | Los Angeles | Las Vegas | Nevada

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