A textbook on the essential lessons of the Kobe earthquake and the one that struck the Northridge section of Los Angeles on the same date a year earlier would read something like this:
Earthquakes are unpredictable. They almost invariably strike not only at times but at places nobody expects, and no one quake is exactly like any other.
Designing or, worse, retrofitting buildings to withstand the tremors is extremely expensive. Nonetheless, recent efforts have been in some ways a heartening success--and in other ways a shocking failure.
Some of the most potentially effective precautions are relatively cheap and...