Tuesday, 21 January 2014

LAPNet Earthquake Workshop

Earthquakes: What are they and how do they affect our Buildings and Collections?
Glendale Public Library – January 21, 2014

I was very excited to attend this workshop about earthquakes at the Glendale Public Library this morning. It was especially relevant to me because, having grown up in Phoenix, Arizona; I had no concept of how it feels to live in a veritable earthquake hotbed. Now that I reside in Los Angeles County, it impossible to ignore that we all live within 10 miles of an earthquake fault line. Dr. Lucy Jones, a seismologist from the United States Geological Survey spoke for an hour about the inevitable earthquake that will strike Los Angeles in the near future and what the ramifications for our urban lifestyles will be. Everything from running water to cell phone towers, and infrastructure could be unavailable for unspecified lengths of time. Using Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans as an example, Dr. Jones shared that as a result of poor preparation and recovery efforts, the population of New Orleans has been reduced to half of its pre-Katrina numbers. How would Los Angeles deal with this type of blow to its population and economy? There is a short video, The ShakeoutScenario, that describes what Los Angeles would be like in the event of a high magnitude earthquake along the San Andreas fault, which just happens to run through the fastest growing region of LA County, the Inland Empire.  

The next speaker, Anders Carlson, a professor at the USC School of Architecture shared extensive data about how buildings have responded to the movement of the Earth beneath them in previous earthquakes. He shared that most engineers and architects design new buildings with preventative measures in anticipation of earthquakes, but the older buildings are in dire need of seismic retrofitting. There are building codes that require ever new and existing building, especially K-12 public schools, to have a minimum level of life safety elements, but the performance of the building under distress is not mandated. Even if no one dies in a building ill prepared for an earthquake, the building could knock into neighboring structures causing damage or become damaged beyond repair displacing residents and workers, which ultimately results in problems that would be more expensive to fix down the road than retro-fitting the building in the near future. There is a website created by structural engineers, dedicated to identifying these dangerous buildings in an effort to make building owners do the preventative maintenance.   

The last speaker, Tony Gardner, the former head of Special Collections and Archives at California State University at Northridge talked about his experience with the Northridge Earthquake on January 17, 1994. Twenty years ago, an earthquake ripped through his campus and left 400 million dollars in damage, which was the highest amount done to an American college campus since the wartime arsons of the Civil War. The libary's two wings, one which housed the archival materials were damaged beyond repair and had to be demolished and re-constructed. Mr. Gardner shared photographs and gave a detailed narrative of what steps were taken by the librarians and archivists to save their materials. I imagined the great amount of patience and resilience demonstrated by his staff as they were moved from one temporary location to the next, and discovering new damage at every turn from theft to water damage. They also had to inventory and pack away materials quickly, often in the dark, with hard hats on as the structure was not stable in the weeks after the earthquake. The images of the lightweight industrial shelves that were twisted out of shape like pipe cleaners and the bankers’ boxes hanging at an angle or on the floor were unsettling, as many of the shelves at MCLM are set up just like that. I also know that some of Mr. Gardner’s “lessons learned” have been implemented through the California Preservation Program, including having a point of contact in case of an emergency and step by step instructions. Every volunteer at MCLM has an emergency plan with maps and phone numbers behind their mandatory name tag.


As a result of my attendance at this workshop, I have an increased awareness of the earthquake threat for myself and the places that I work. I was so grateful for the audience member who asked what an individual should do in the case of an earthquake, answer: don’t run, find a table and crawl under it. As MCLM is working on a new collection storage space, I can also be much more knowledgeable about the positive and negative aspects of the decisions that are being made. Although this session was not about archives directly, I believe that we, as archivists, have a responsibility to understand and mitigate the risks that we can and cannot control within the environments of our collections.   

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