Did You Feel It? Reports Sought 30 Years After Northridge Earthquake

January 18, 2024 0 By JohnValbyNation

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA — The deadly and destructive 1994 Northridge earthquake killed dozens of people, injured thousands, and caused billions of dollars in damage in Southern California.

Thirty years later, the United States Geological Survey has asked people who felt the 6.7 magnitude quake in the greater Los Angeles area and beyond to use the agency’s “Did You Feel It?” reporting tool and share their memories.

“This information collected from the public supplements scientific data and helps us better understand the impact of past and future earthquakes,” said Christine Goulet, director of the USGS Earthquake Science Center. “Nowadays, the system is up within minutes of an earthquake, and we encourage the public to go online to submit their reports.”

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Reports contribute to the agency’s understanding of the effects of earthquakes and are used to make detailed maps of shaking. Scientists use these maps to forecast future shaking and better inform emergency response, building codes, and other efforts to protect life and property, according to the USGS.

“There are things that people can tell us about what they experienced around earthquakes that will really inform us and give us a better understanding of how to keep people safer,” said Robert-Michael de Groot, a coordinator at ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning System for the USGS Earthquake Science Center. “These experiences give us a human map of the experience of that event 30 years ago.”

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The Northridge earthquake struck at 4:31 a.m. Jan. 17, 1994, killing at least 57 people and injuring thousands, according to the California Department of Conservation. The quake was centered in the Northridge neighborhood of Los Angeles, but shaking was felt hundreds of miles away in every direction.

The quake caused an estimated $20 billion in damage, plus more than $40 billion in economic loss, making it the costliest earthquake disaster in U.S. history. Buildings and freeway overpasses collapsed, and thousands of landslides happened throughout the mountains surrounding the San Fernando Valley and as far north as Castaic Lake in Los Angeles County.

The Did You Feel It? reporting system didn’t launch until 1999, five years after the devastating earthquake. The system, however, allows people to submit reports retroactively. Originally, the questionnaire was available only in English, but the USGS recently added Spanish and Chinese translations.

Prior to putting out a call last week for reports, the USGS had 9,983 responses for the Northridge earthquake. As of Tuesday, the agency had received nearly 2,000 more reports.

“I remember that event like it was yesterday,” de Groot told Patch. “I was in my apartment in Pasadena and I started feeling the shaking. The first thing I did was I got under a doorway, which is what you should not be doing. You should be dropping, covering and holding on.”

“There was a massive enterprise after that to reeducate,” he added.

In the three decades since the quake struck Southern California, there has been a push toward progress, from increasing earthquake safety awareness to making buildings safer throughout the state.

One of the biggest advancements has been the creation of the USGS ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning System, which detects significant quakes early enough so that alerts can be delivered to residents and automated systems potentially seconds before shaking arrives.

The current ShakeAlert system has been running since 2018, de Groot explained, but the MyShake early-warning app for earthquakes launched in October 2019 in California, corresponding with the 30th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake. The app was expanded to Oregon and Washington in 2021.

Today, the app serves 50 million people across all three states.

“In many ways, both the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and the 1994 Northridge earthquake were these catapults that allowed us to really recognize that we needed new tools, tools that everyone can use,” de Groot said. “Our motto is ‘earthquake early warning for all.’ We want to make sure that everybody has access to this, so that they can protect themselves.”

The 30th anniversary of the Northridge earthquake serves as a reminder that Californians live in earthquake country, De Groot said. He encouraged residents to be prepared and download the app, as well as create an emergency kit and plan.

“The Northridge earthquake was not the big one,” he said. “It was a moderate earthquake in a highly urbanized area, and it still did billions of dollars in damage.

“Earthquakes are in our future, but things are looking up. Things are improving,” he added. “There’s now even more you can do to protect yourself.”

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