The M 6.0 South Napa Earthquake of August 24, 2014, was the first earthquake to strike a major metropolitan area in the State of California in over two decades. During that quiescent period, the State’s population grew significantly, thousands of new businesses were started and thousands of new buildings were built. This means that the 2014 South Napa quake has provided an opportunity to learn about how we plan for, build for, and respond to earthquakes, as well as educate millions of Californians who are ‘new’ to earthquakes about them.

In October 2014, the Seismic Safety Commission held a public hearing in American Canyon, California, to better understand impacts and lessons learned from the South Napa earthquake. The Commission engaged its longtime partner, the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center based at UC Berkeley, to research and report on the impacts and lessons learned from the earthquake.

The 55 page report contains 12 “Priority Recommendations,” which are important for anyone living or working in California. The majority is in the ”structures” category, since improvements in our built environment has perhaps the most direct positive impact on safety and recovery. These are presented below and organized under the same headings as the report.

  1. Geosciences
    • Identify the locations of complex and integrated fault zones in the state, like the West Napa Fault Zone, and prioritize these for evaluation and mapping and potential designation as Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zones.
    • Evaluate the effects of current amendments and exemptions under the Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zone Act and accompanying regulations, and study ways to better regulate and fund geologic investigations and structural mitigation in Alquist-Priolo Earthquake Fault Zones.
  2. Infrastructure
    • Ensure that all State-required gas safety plans address the mitigation of system risks to seismic hazards.
    • Convene a State task force that includes local water and wastewater providers as well as fire departments across the state to identify vulnerabilities, mitigation options, and financial mechanisms to enhance the seismic resilience of local water and wastewater systems, particularly in areas vulnerable to widespread ground failure and that lack alternative water supplies for firefighting.
  3. Structures
    • Work with FEMA, the California Building Officials, and other professional engineering and architectural organizations to: ensure that curricula for training and certification of safety assessors are effective and more widely implemented, particularly for local government personnel; improve protocols for deploying and compensating safety assessors; expand the use of Building Occupancy Resumption Programs; and grant safety assessment authority to the Division of the State Architect for public K-14 schools and State-owned buildings.
    • Work with the California Building Officials and professional engineering and architectural organizations, including the American Institute of Architects California Chapter and Structural Engineers Association of California, to develop guidance for local jurisdictions on effective coordination and management of post- earthquake safety assessment processes.
    • Develop guidance and training for local fire departments and building owners and operators on alternative procedures to safely turn off damaged sprinkler systems following earthquakes.
    • Evaluate and enhance, as needed, training and inspection materials for school districts and staff to seismically secure non-structural systems, equipment, contents and furnishings in public and private schools.
  4. People and Businesses
    • Establish a State task force to consider the risks posed to the state by the large proportion of uninsured residents and businesses in high-seismic hazard areas, and identify options for improving the take-up, affordability, and terms of earthquake insurance coverage for California residents and businesses, as well as alternative earthquake recovery funding sources for both residents and businesses.
    • Evaluate and enhance, as needed, penalties and other consumer protections against post-disaster scamming by contractors and cost inflation.
  5. Government and Institutions
    • Strengthen seismic performance standards and contingency planning for all State and local correctional facilities.
    • Review and revise, as needed, State regulations guiding the transfer and housing of inmates in county jails during times of emergency.