Why Should I Prepare?—Big Quakes Will Affect You

The Disastrous 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake Was Not the "Big One"!

The Loma Prieta earthquake released only 3% of the energy of the Great 1906 quake. Although it occurred in the Santa Cruz Mountains, far from the Bay Areas urban centers, it caused destruction not only in nearby Santa Cruz and Watsonville but also in San Francisco and Oakland:

  • More than 60 people died, most in the collapse of the Cypress freeway structure in Oakland.
  • About 16,000 homes and apartment units were so badly damaged that they could no longer be lived in. The American Red Cross operated 45 shelters housing more than 6,000 people, many of them for several months.
  • The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was closed for more than a month because a portion of its eastern span collapsed. This closure and the collapse of the Cypress Freeway were the most dramatic of 142 road closures in the Bay Area.
  • Direct physical damage to buildings and structures totaled $6 billion; other related losses were an additional $4 billion (losses in 1989 dollars).

ShakeMap of the 1989 M 6.9 Loma Prieta Earthquake

ShakeMap of the 1989 M 6.9 Loma Prieta Earthquake ShakeMap legend

This "ShakeMap" shows levels of shaking in the San Francisco Bay region during the1989 magnitude (M) 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake. Shaking intensities are shown by colors corresponding to the "Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale," which uses Roman numerals and is based on actual reports of shaking and damage in earthquakes. ShakeMaps are now automatically generated from shaking measurements recorded by an extensive network of seismographic instruments operated by the partnership organizations in the California Integrated Seismic Network (CISN). CISN ShakeMaps are now available online within minutes after a significant earthquake at earthquake.usgs.gov/shakemap/ or www.cisn.org/shakemap/.

How Do I Find Out the Expected Shaking in My Neighborhood?

ABAG earthquake shaking scenario - San Andreas Fault (peninsula segment) Magnitude 7.2

The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) operates a Web site designed to provide this information in the form of earthquake-shaking hazard maps. These maps show expected shaking intensities in the Bay Area for various earthquake scenarios, such as a quake on the Peninsula segment of the San Andreas Fault or the northern Hayward Fault. These maps can be "zoomed in" to display your neighborhood.

Other ABAG earthquake hazard maps show areas of liquefaction susceptibility, landslide hazards, potential fault ruptures, and tsunami inundation. ABAG even has maps for other natural hazards such as wildfires and flooding.

Some words of caution:

  • Because these hazard maps are based on general information, they are reasonably accurate for a neighborhood, but much less accurate for a particular address.
  • The maps in this booklet or on ABAGs Web site are based on probabilities, so actual earthquakes could produce different damage patterns.

Many Likely Earthquake Scenarios for the Bay Area Will Cause More Damage Than the Loma Prieta Earthquake...

What if the Hayward Fault in the East Bay ruptured from San Pablo Bay to Fremont in an earthquake of magnitude 6.9, like Loma Prieta?

If this scenario earthquake for the Hayward Fault occurs, areas of soft soils along the margins of San Francisco Bay, particularly in the East Bay, are likely to experience intense shaking and liquefaction. These areas are heavily urbanized and may have devastation similar to or greater than that of the area around the Cypress freeway structure in Oakland in 1989, shown below.

(USGS photo)

"Scenario" ShakeMap for a Possible M 6.9 Earthquake on the Hayward Fault


This "scenario" ShakeMap shows predicted levels of shaking in the San Francisco Bay region for a possible magnitude (M) 6.9 earthquake on the Hayward Fault. Such scenario maps are computer generated using information about the projected quake magnitude, distances from the rupturing fault, and local geologic conditions. Scenario ShakeMaps are available online.

Projected Consequences and Implications for the Bay Area from a Magnitude 6.9 Earthquake on the Hayward Fault


Source: Association of Bay Area Governments

Your Life Could Change Unexpectedly in the Next Quake. Consider...

Where will your family be?

  • Your children may be at school, day care, or other activities.
  • Family members may be at work or commuting.
  • Pets may run away or be injured.

After the 2001 magnitude 6.8 Nisqually earthquake, this school in the Puget Sound area of Washington was closed for repair (Earthquake Engineering Research Institute photo).

Pets are not allowed in most emergency shelters. Do you have a plan to feed and care for your animals after an earthquake? (Photos courtesy of Emergency Animal Rescue Service)

Will you have medical services?

  • The 911 emergency system will likely be overloaded.
  • Hospitals and other medical facilities may be damaged.
  • Emergency rooms and trauma centers may be overwhelmed.
  • Assisted living, critical care, and other health services such as dialysis may not be operational.

This hospital in Sylmar, California, had to be demolished after the 1971 magnitude 6.7 San Fernando earthquake. Lower photo shows an ambulance that was crushed during the quake. (USGS photos)

Will you be able to get home?

  • Road damage and closures may restrict your ability to travel by car.
  • Public transportation, including buses, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), ferries, and airports may experience closures or interruptions in service.
  • Commute times may be dramatically increased.

The 1989 magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake caused this section of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge to collapse (USGS photo).

Will you be able to stay in your home?

  • Your home may be damaged and unsafe to live in.
  • Your personal property may be damaged or destroyed.
  • Construction materials and labor for repairs will be in limited supply and costs will increase.
  • Rebuilding scams may be common.
  • Availability of rental housing may be limited due to damage and high demand.

This porch on a wood-frame house failed during the 1989 magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake. The "red tag" indicates that this home is unsafe and must not be entered or occupied. (USGS photo)

Can you live without the services you rely on?

  • Water may be in short supply.
  • Natural gas and electric power may be out for days or weeks.
  • Garbage and sewage services may be interrupted.
  • Telephone, Internet, cell phone, and wireless communications may be overloaded or unavailable.
  • Mail service may be disrupted or delayed.
  • Gasoline may be in short supply, and rationing may be necessary.
  • Bank operations may be disrupted, limiting access to cash, ATMs, or online banking.
  • Grocery, drug, and other retail stores may be closed or unable to restock shelves.

Where will you get your water, food, medicines, and gasoline after an earthquake? (USGS photo)

How will your job be affected?

  • Businesses may sustain damage and disruptionmany small businesses require a long time to reopen or do not survive disasters.
  • Your income may be affectedpayroll checks or direct deposits may be delayed.
  • Your workplace may become a temporary shelter for you or others.
  • Supplies and deliveries will be interrupted.

This business in Santa Cruz, California, was nearly destroyed in the 1989 magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake (USGS photo).

How Will the American Red Cross Help?

After an earthquake, the American Red Cross will help in the following ways:

  • Opening and operating emergency shelters.
  • Providing food at shelters and feeding locations and through mobile distribution.
  • Obtaining and delivering other needed items such as water, baby supplies, and blankets.
  • Assisting with the immediate mental-health needs of those affected.
  • Providing for basic health needs at shelters and other locations.
  • Helping with initial recovery through casework and referrals to other agencies and partners.
  • Providing blood and blood products.

More information about American Red Cross

Your Financial Situation Could Be Affected by a Quake...

Don't be fooled!—Myth number 3
"Homeowner's Insurance will cover any damage to my home or belongings caused by an earthquake"
Most residential property insurance policies do not cover damage resulting from earthquakes. A separate earthquake insurance policy is one way to protect your home and the investments you have made in personal belongings. Investigate your options carefully to ensure that your assets are sufficiently protected. More information on insurance.

Aid may not be immediately available following a major disaster. Without proper planning, the financial impact of an earthquake on you and your family could be devastating. Although many things are out of your control after a quake, your ability to recover financially depends on a number of factors that you can control. Prepare and follow a financial disaster recovery plan and you will be more likely to recover successfully. Consider the following:

Will you have money, food, and medicine?

  • Bank operations may be disrupted, limiting access to cash, ATMs, or online banking.
  • Food, drug, and other retail stores where you shop may be closed or unable to restock shelves.

This store was temporarily closed following the 2001 magnitude 6.8 Nisqually, Washington, earthquake (photo courtesy of The Olympian, Olympia, Wash.).

Will you be able to recover financially?

  • You are still responsible for your existing debts, such as mortgage, lease, car, and credit-card payments.
  • You may not have access to important financial records.
  • Your assets are at risk without sufficient earthquake insurance.
  • If you have earthquake insurance and experience loss, begin working with your insurer to file a claim as quickly as possible.

This bank was damaged in the 2001 magnitude 6.8 Nisqually, Washington, earthquake, requiring customers to seek services elsewhere (photo courtesy of The Olympian, Olympia, Wash.).

Will your insurance cover your losses?

  • Homeowners and renters insurance policies do not cover losses related to earthquakes.
  • A separate earthquake insurance policy is one way to help protect your home, in addition to seismic retrofitting.
  • Earthquake insurance also helps with additional living expenses in the days and weeks after earthquakes.
  • A staggering 86% of California homeowners do not yet have earthquake insurance.

Does your small business have a recovery plan?

  • A business disaster recovery plan will make your business better able to survive in a post-disaster environment.
  • Although physical assets can be replaced, emotional and social changes that affect businesses and their customers may remain long after a disaster.
  • Businesses may not return to their previous revenue levels after a disaster; however, some businesses such as construction are likely to be in great demand following an earthquake.

These small businesses in Santa Cruz, California, were heavily damaged in the 1989 magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake, but both eventually reopened (USGS photo).

What will the Government do for you?

  • Federal disaster relief programs are designed to help you get partly back on your feet but not to replace everything you lose.
  • The Department of Homeland Securitys Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is tasked with responding to, planning for, and mitigating disasters.
  • After the President signs a major disaster declaration, FEMA cooperates with other agencies, such as the Small Business Administration (SBA), in providing disaster relief.
  • The primary form of disaster relief is low-interest loans to eligible individuals, homeowners, and businesses made available through the SBA to repair or replace damaged property and personal belongings not covered by insurance.
  • The maximum SBA personal-property loan is $40,000, and the maximum SBA real-property loan for primary home repair is $200,000.
  • FEMA disaster grants for emergency home repairs and temporary rental assistance are only available to individuals and households who do not qualify for loans.
  • The average FEMA grant is less than $15,000 (the maximum is $26,200)not enough to rebuild a home in the Bay Area!
  • The Farm Service Agency (FSA) offers loans to assist agricultural businesses.

This home in the Santa Cruz Mountains, California, collapsed in the 1989 magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake (USGS photo).

Useful Web sites

Financial preparation information:

Operation Hope Emergency Financial First Aid Kit (EFFAK)
(Note: Both English and Spanish versions of the EFFAK are available at this site.)

Disaster aid information