Lifelines

Upgrading infrastructures to enhance San Francisco's earthquake resilience
SPUR Report
February 1, 2009

In disaster planning, much attention is paid to the role of buildings – how will they perform in a major earthquake? How long will they take to repair? Will people be able to stay in their homes after a quake or will they need temporary shelter? Less attention is paid to our "lifelines" — the utility systems that bring us our water, electricity and natural gas, and the transportation systems that allow us to get around, including public transit, ports and airports, and road infrastructure.

The importance of reducing the risk to lifelines cannot be understated. Imagine what would happen if even one of our lifelines seriously failed in an earthquake. How would people be able to shelter in place without drinking water? What happens if our natural gas lines cease to work or — worse — stoke the flames of a massive fire? How will emergency workers get to our city if the bridges fail? How will our economy recover if we can't move people or goods around the region?

Lifeline owners in both the public and private sectors have made significant investments in designing, constructing, and retrofitting their facilities and systems to reduce the risk of damage in an earthquake and to facilitate restoration of services to their customers. However, the seismic performance standards for lifelines vary widely and are not tied to public policies for reducing risk or ensuring community resilience in the face of a major earthquake. As things now stand, it may take months or even years for some systems to be restored to full operation. SPUR has developed this report to raise awareness of San Francisco's vulnerability and to encourage the steps necessary to strenghten the city's lifelines and increase its resilience to a major earthquake.

About the Authors: 

The SPUR Board of Directors reviewed, debated and adopted this report as official policy on September 17, 2008.

This report generously underwritten by Degenkolb Engineers


Before the Disaster Task Force Chair: Chris Poland

Primary authors: Chris Poland (Defining Resilience), David Bonowitz (Existing Buildings), Joe Maffei (New Buildings), Christopher Barkley (Lifelines)
Before the Disaster Task Force Members: Ross Asselstine Chris Barkley, David Bonowitz, Laurie Johnson, Joe Maffei, Jack Moehle, John Paxton, Robert Pekelnicky, Jes Penderson, Chris Poland, Laura Dwelley- Samant, Michael Theriault, Tom Tobin, Debra Walker, George Williams, Jessica Zenk

Resources: Kent Ferre, Laurence Kornfield, Hanson Tom

SPUR lead staff: Sarah Karlinsky

Image courtesy Lc055a, Wikimedia Commons