Loma Prieta Earthquake: A Tale of Resilience


On October 17, 1989, a devastating earthquake struck the San Francisco Bay Area, leaving behind a trail of destruction and despair. The Loma Prieta earthquake, a 6.9 magnitude, was a reminder of the region’s seismic activity. However, in the face of this tragedy, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) orchestrated an impressive and coordinated recovery effort that showcased the resilience and strength of Californians statewide. 

The Loma Prieta Earthquake: A Day of Destruction 

The Loma Prieta earthquake, often referred to as the “World Series Earthquake” due to its occurrence during the 1989 World Series game between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics, struck at 5:04 p.m. local time. Its epicenter was in the Santa Cruz Mountains near Loma Prieta, and its effects were felt throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. The quake caused widespread devastation, with buildings collapsing, bridges failing and highways crumbling. 

The aftermath was grim, with 63 people losing their lives, thousands more injured, and widespread property damage. The Bay Area, known for its picturesque landscapes and vibrant communities, was left shaken. 

The Unsung Heroes of Response and Recovery 

In the midst of the chaos and destruction, and still in its infancy, Cal OES emerged as an agency with a mission to assist residents in need after the disaster. The state agency was responsible for coordinating emergency response and recovery efforts and played a pivotal role in orchestrating the recovery efforts following the Loma Prieta earthquake. 

  • Immediate Response: Cal OES along with state and local partners sprang into action immediately after the earthquake, coordinating the deployment of the first-of-its-kind Urban Search and Rescue units to the affected areas. 
  • Search and Rescue: Urban Search and Rescue teams worked tirelessly to manage search and rescue operations, ensuring that no one was left trapped or injured without assistance. This involved deploying specialized teams equipped with the latest technology to locate and rescue survivors from collapsed buildings and debris. 
  • Infrastructure Restoration: The earthquake had severely damaged critical infrastructure, including the collapse of a section of the Cypress Street Viaduct in Oakland and the partial collapse of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Cal OES along with state and local partners coordinated efforts to repair and rebuild these vital public infrastructures. 
  • Community Support: Beyond the physical infrastructure, Cal OES provided essential support to affected communities. This included setting up emergency and recovery shelters.  
  • Long-Term Recovery: Cal OES continued to work with state and local partners for years following the earthquake to ensure a complete and lasting recovery. This involved comprehensive planning, risk mitigation measures and promoting earthquake preparedness. 

Legacy of Resilience 

The Loma Prieta earthquake was a devastating tragedy that tested the strength and resilience of the San Francisco Bay Area. Through the tireless efforts of Cal OES, other state agencies, local governments and community unity, recovery and rebuilding became possible. The legacy of this disaster lies not only in the destruction it caused, but also in the enduring spirit of resilience and preparedness that it inspired, making the region better prepared for future disasters.  

In 2019, on the 30th anniversary of the deadly Loma Prieta earthquake, Governor Governor Gavin Newsom announced the launch of the nation’s first statewide Earthquake Early Warning System. The California Earthquake Early Warning System marries a smartphone application with traditional alert and warning delivery methods such as Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA). The system uses ground motion sensors from across the state to detect earthquakes before humans can feel them. Building on this success of the Governor’s 2019 launch, in 2020 Governor Newsom announced a partnership with Google to incorporate California’s earthquake early warning technology into all Android smartphones. To date, more than two million users have downloaded California’s MyShake App.

To learn more about earthquake preparedness and download the earthquake early warning application, visit: www.earthquake.ca.gov.