May 28, 2014

Increasing Disaster Resilience of Critical Infrastructure By Public/Private Partnerships Through Locally Funded Initiatives

Posted by kcompton

By Mary Lou Zoback, Consulting Professor, Stanford University

Friday, October 17, 2014 will mark the 25th anniversary of the M6.9 Loma Prieta/World Series earthquake that struck the San Francisco Bay Area at 5:04 PM. The shaking lasted 25 seconds. When it stopped, 62 people had lost their lives, largely the result of bridge and overpass collapse (43 deaths) as well as collapse of San Francisco homes built in a region of bay fill. Beyond this loss of life, the regional economy was affected by an estimated several billion dollars in losses due to disruption of economic activity and damaged infrastructure.


Rebuilding the eastern span of the Bay Bridge was one of the many infrastructure upgrades in the San Francisco Bay Area after the magnitude 6.9 Loma Priet/World Series earthquake. A 50 food segment of the upper deck of the bridge collapsed during the shaking.

In the 25 years since Loma Prieta, San Francisco Bay area infrastructure (IF) providers have dramatically increased their disaster resilience through substantial system upgrades, an investment of $21 billion—almost $1billion/year—funded almost exclusively locally by ratepayers and taxpayers. These responses and infrastructure upgrades were based on a rigorous analysis of future earthquake likelihoods made by the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) earthquake hazards program. Though each of the system upgrades were motivated by damage sustained in 1989, IF providers took into account the USGS’ earthquake forecasts—indicating that future damaging earthquakes striking the region are twice as likely as not to occur and are also likely to be closer to the major metropolitan areas and larger in magnitude—when making their upgrades.

Communicating the importance of post-disaster performance of infrastructure to stakeholders was key to getting the support that IF providers needed for their large-scale projects. The risk communication efforts in partnership with the USGS made it possible for IF providers to gain internal support as well as public support for the needed upgrades. All of the upgrades were funded locally by a citizenry that recognizes the value of continued performance post-earthquake for recovery and the value of investing ahead of time to reduce substantial losses after the earthquake.

The public/private partnerships between the USGS and Bay Area IF providers exemplifies the kinds of approaches outlined in Presidential Policy Directive 21 on Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience, the purpose of which is “to reduce vulnerabilities, minimize consequences, identify and disrupt threats, and hasten response and recovery efforts related to critical infrastructure.”

The effort in the Bay Area is largely an informal one in which USGS researchers collaborate with IF staff to learn of their concerns and data needs, and USGS researchers produce information and products to address those needs. PG&E has actually funded some targeted USGS research.

The five IF providers each employed a five-step strategy to increase their resilience:
1)    Assess vulnerabilities of their systems to expected earthquakes
2)    Set performance goals for their systems after the earthquake
3)    Communicate risks/benefits and secure funding
4)    Develop creative and innovative solutions for these complex problems. These include building redundancy into the system at the start and taking advantage of, and in some cases funding, research to improve solutions.
5)    Continue to reassess system performance as upgrades proceed. Develop real-time damage assessment capability using near real-time maps of earthquake shaking intensity provided by the USGS overlain by their system fragility functions.

Infrastructure providers in the San Francisco Bay Area have spent $21 billion dollars combined since the Loma Prieta/World Series earthquake to ensure resiliency to future events.

Infrastructure providers in the San Francisco Bay Area have spent $21 billion dollars combined since the Loma Prieta/World Series earthquake to ensure resiliency to future events.

I feel this sustained, coordinated and successful partnership and effort in improving regional resilience is exemplary and should serve as inspiration for the rest of the nation. Perhaps most impressive is that now that most of the initial round of system upgrades is complete, the IF providers are working together plan the next level of resilience: addressing key regional interdependencies and vulnerabilities. This entire story illustrates that improving resilience is an ongoing process, informed by “lessons learned” and enabled by cooperation among diverse players in the public and private sectors.

Mary Lou Zoback is a seismologist and Consulting Professor in the Geophysics Department at Stanford University. She spent much of her career in the USGS Earthquake Hazard Program and served as Chief Scientist of the USGS Western Earthquake Hazards Team. From 2006-2011 she was Vice President for Earthquake Risk Applications with Risk Management Solutions, a private catastrophe modeling firm serving the insurance industry. In that role she utilized the company’s commercial risk models to explore the societal role of earthquake insurance, and to quantify the costs and benefits of disaster management and risk reduction activities. Dr. Zoback will be speaking at the AGU Science Policy Conference in June.