60 years after the Tehachapi earthquake and the aftershock that rocked Bakersfield, would we see the same devastation now if a similar earthquake hit?
California has some of the strictest seismic codes in the country, but earthquakes and the damage they can cause are unpredictable, according to city building experts.
After the powerful 5.8 Bakersfield aftershock of 1952, and following every California quake since, including the 6.7 shaker that left 57 dead in Los Angeles in 1994, engineers have studied the damage. The devastation those quakes created became building blocks of knowledge for engineers like Raul Rojas, Bakersfield's Director of Public Works.
"I'm not sure that we will say that, as an engineer, that we have everything solved," said Rojas.
As time passes, Rojas says seismic codes evolve as engineers know more about the effects of earthquakes. He believes all of the municipal buildings should stand strong in the event of a temblor the size of 1952's.
"Anytime you have an event where you can really see what happens during the event you learn," said Rojas. "The rules get better, we learn more, the buildings get better."
Rojas says the buildings that collapsed in 1952 were unreinforced masonry buildings. Many of the roofs were unattached to the exterior walls. As the walls would sway, they would separate, allowing the roof to come crashing in.
Today, many of the retrofitted buildings have big bolts placed on the sides, attaching the roof to the walls so all of the parts should move together in a quake.
"I would say Bakersfield is in a good situation," said Mark Fick, the Assistant Building Director for Bakersfield. Fick says many of the buildings damaged in 1952 were torn down. And, the few high rises we have are newer, built under codes in place when they went up. Current records show 21 buildings in Bakersfield have not been retrofitted. The ones that aren't have signs in their windows.
Bridges are routinely inspected. One on Manor Street is currently undergoing a seismic retrofit. There are constant steps toward progress to prepare for the unpredictable.
"I would hope with today's building standards and the construction techniques, it's a lot safer environment. But, when you are up against Mother Nature you never know," said Fick.
Fick says Bakersfield is currently following the 2010 California and residential building codes. Codes are updated every three years, so a new set of codes should be adopted in 2014.