THE QUAKE


At 5:03 p.m. on October 17, 1989 I left my desk to join the exodus of County employees that had dashed for the elevators to rush home to enjoy the 3rd game of the S.F. Bay World Series. (My boss had taken leave to see the game in person.) On my way out I grabbed the phone at the Counter to call hurriedly the Seismological Station at the University of California, to learn of any earthquake news. Before I had completed punching out the numbers, the 7.1M World Series Quake struck!

I waved my free hand in the air and cried out exultantly, "I got my quake!" However, within a second or two, I didn't want it. The building swayed, twisted and bounced. A heavy micro film reader slammed against me and I pushed it back, preventing it from crashing onto the floor.
There was a cacophony of noise all around me as file cabinets toppled, bookshelves emptied, and many other loose items slid around and fell.
I exclaimed to no one in particular, "We've got a major quake here; this is a seven!" Then I thought of the human element and said, "I hope it's centered closer to here than to Candlestick." (Obviously, it was so frightening in the County Building, that it might be truly horrendous if centered forty miles north of San Jose.)

Although we are told that the ground motion lasted only about 15 seconds, tall buildings swayed for minutes. As planned our elevators were out of service, but unplanned were two that were stuck between floors with passengers in various states of panic. I made my way down the stairs and compared notes on the ground with dozens of other County employees.
Some thought that the epicenter was near Hollister but I guessed that it was south of Lexington Reservoir where "foreshocks" of 5+ magnitude had struck on August 8, 1989 and June 27, 1988. I headed home slowly through jammed streets and found that there was relatively little damage in San Jose east of Highway 10l. At my home in the foothills the most noticeable effect was that the water in our swimming pool was about three feet lower than when I had left it that morning. At my office my major loss was shattering of a prized memento from the 8.3M 1906 San Francisco earthquake----a glass negative showing the devastated City Hall, with a newly exposed sign on a nearby wall saying in large letters, "WHY?" (It took the strongest Bay Area quake since 1906 to destroy this relic of that year.)

At that time I had been the first Santa Clara County Geologist for 16 years. As one might expect I worked day and night for the next seven days after the Loma Prieta Quake, examining landslides, fissured ground and roads, damaged houses, working with private consultants and other governmental geologists and safety personnel about various aspects of the quake; at night I tried to answer dozens of telephone calls that had piled up while I was in the field. (Some concerned citizens had heard rumors that the 7M event was a "foreshock" to an imminent 9M superquake!
I did my best to dispel such talk and said I did not expect any aftershock of more than 5.5-6M.)

Many people were aware that I had publicly predicted "The World Series Quake" in an October 13, 1989 newspaper. My call for a 3.5-6.0M quake was for the maximum tidal period of October 14-21, 1989. Not for publication, but frequently stated were my expectations of a quake of 6.5-7, although none so strong had hit the Bay Area since 1911. One Campbell woman saved $6000 in china and crystal, which she had taken down at my recommendation prior to the quake. A Lockheed engineer informed me that they had saved hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of vulnerable solar panels by securing the project against shaking after the work day, because of my prediction. I felt vindicated and gratified that earthquake prediction was not only possible......it was effective.

Then came the real shaker! On October 22, 1989 I was accused of "panicking the public" with a new "pronouncement" for a great earthquake to strike us in November. This was totally false, but powerful forces in the scientific and political communities spread the rumor, and issued press statements before I had been consulted. My wife learned of the charges before I did via the evening television news. I was banished from my job for 2 1/2 months while an investigation was undertaken. While home I was ordered not to discuss earthquakes with the media, as my position was in jeopardy. Over the next few weeks I received hundreds of phone calls and dozens of letters in my support, even though they did not know that my job description outlined many duties, including that I was expected to conduct special investigations into geological matters leading to public safety.

After I returned to work I found a great many changes had occurred, including a ban on my discussing the subject of earthquakes on County time. This was rescinded when I convinced management that earthquakes and earthquake safety were both vital every-day topics for California geologists, although not necessarily so for earthquake predictions. In order to continue my credo of INFORM RATHER THAN CONFORM, in January 1990 I began to publish my monthly earthquake newsletter, SYZYGY, and to form a partnership with QUAKELINE, a 900-Line, with earthquake information and predictions.

Thus it is clear that the Loma Prieta Earthquake had a profound affect on my career, my reputation, my family and my outlook. Eventually, most of these changes were in a positive direction. In May of 1994 I retired after more than 37 years of government service (almost 21 of which were with Santa Clara County.) The "aftershocks" of the October 17, 1989 earthquake cost me thousands of dollars and resulted in shortening my government career by at least several years. However, I would do it all again; I did it my way, and I have yet to see any of my detractors develop a more effective method of earthquake prediction.

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