The Benefits of Being Prepared

Emergency planning paid off but did not prevent two disastrous collapses

The enormous energy and resources that Californians have invested in getting ready for the Big One were amply rewarded last week. Since 1971, construction codes have been tightened, buildings have been reinforced, emergency backup water supplies and communications systems have been secured. In communities throughout the state, fire and police departments regularly practice earthquake evacuation and rescue responses, and neighborhood groups have organized self-help efforts.

Those precautions saved hundreds of lives. In San Francisco modern office high-rises, many standing on huge steel-and-rubber springs deep below their foundations, rode out the bucking movement, bouncing and swaying as much as 30 ft. from...

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