Glendale seeks better preparedness after 1994 Northridge quake

In the 20 years since the 6.7-magnitude Northridge earthquake shook Southern California, Glendale has rebounded with stricter building codes and better communication among its public safety agencies.

The devastating temblor, which struck at 4:31 a.m. on Jan. 17, 1994, killed 60 people in the region and destroyed tens of thousands of structures, including some major ones in Glendale.

The disastrous event, however, reinforced the need to better connect with each other and residents, city officials said.

The rise of social media since the quake has allowed city, police and fire officials to get information out to residents sooner, and has helped them identify critical needs that may not have been reported in more traditional ways.

“It gives us the ability to be the ones that provide information directly without third-party interference or misinterpretation of information and eliminate rumors,” city spokesman Tom Lorenz said.

While social media has changed the way city officials connect with residents, the quality of radio communication has also improved how area public safety agencies work together, according to Glendale Fire Battalion Chief Tom Propst.

“Years ago, the departments worked by themselves,” Propst said. “Now, we work a lot closer together as one department as opposed to individual departments.”

The day of the quake, Propst made sure his family was safe and secure before taking the trek to Glendale, which was unusually long that day.

As Propst drove for more than three hours from the Santa Clarita Valley, he witnessed the quake’s ruin — collapsed freeway bridges and a mobile home community engulfed in flames in Sylmar.

At the time, he immediately reported to Station 25 to survey the quake’s damage in the city.

But unlike the massive destruction in other parts of the region, damage in Glendale was moderate.

“It wasn’t quite as chaotic as it was in other cities,” he said.

Still, parking structures at the Glendale Galleria, Glendale City Center and other sites throughout the city collapsed.

Unsupported brick buildings — including a four-story, 74-unit apartment building at 700 E. Orange Grove Ave. — were so damaged they were eventually demolished, according to Jan Edwards, the city’s interim building official.

Some entire building walls fell onto parked cars, while many chimneys throughout the city were also damaged.

The destruction in Glendale forced city staff to take a second look at building codes.

City staffers closely studied the collapsed buildings and developed more stringent standards for building materials, Edwards said in an email.

Structures under construction must now comply with the city’s latest building codes.

“While initially this may have been more expensive (for developers), the construction industry has responded and developed economical ways of providing compliance,” Edwards said.

An engineer is now also required to visit construction projects during critical stages to ensure structures don’t deviate from approved plans, she added.

With improvements made to the building codes, the city’s Fire Department also enhanced its training in Urban Search and Rescue procedures.

Fire personnel are also part of a regional Urban Search and Rescue Task Force, which fire officials said is capable of responding to an incident in 45 minutes and can operate anywhere in California for 24 hours on its own.


Follow Veronica Rocha on Google+ and on Twitter: @VeronicaRochaLA.

Follow Tim Traeger on Twitter: @TraegerTim.


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