Earthquake Resilience a Point of Pride in Anchorage

December 6, 2018
Anchorage takes earthquake preparedness seriously.

Daniel Nichols’ garage is still standing. Granted, it smells strongly of salmon now. But it’s still standing.

The magnitude-7.0 earthquake that shook Anchorage, AK, Nov. 30, did significant damage, make no mistake. One highway ramp interchange was nearly totally destroyed, among plenty of property damage. That it wasn’t much worse, though, is a point of pride for Alaskan civil engineers.

“Considering how strong it was, how close it was, how shallow it was – we fared very well overall,” said Nichols, P.E., M.ASCE, president of ASCE’s Anchorage Branch and director of water resources and rural development for Kuna Engineering.

Nichols’ house avoided serious damage. The family’s summer fish canning jars fell off a shelf, hence the aforementioned salmon smell. Overall, he considers himself lucky.

Lucky – but also prepared. Locals still remember the 1964 “Good Friday” earthquake as a wake-up call.

“My dad’s a retired civil engineer who went through the ’64 earthquake, and he says ever since then, Alaska and Anchorage have taken emergency preparedness very seriously,” Nichols said.

“Most of Anchorage maintained continuous power [last weekend]. In the ’70s, Anchorage buried all utilities, so we don’t have the problem other places have with power being out for weeks at a time. And that’s an example of Anchorage deciding to build to a higher standard; very conscious about structural codes.

“I’ve grown up here. I’ve had three volcanoes dust us with ash. We have earthquakes regularly. We take it seriously and we take a bit of pride in being tough and rugged.”

Other notes

“Teams from the Alaska DOT&PF and the Anchorage Water & Wastewater Utility were on the scene immediately after the quake and have already begun efforts to stabilize and reconstruct the damaged infrastructure.

“Alaska is the most seismically active zone in the United States, and because of that we have very stringent building codes. Because of that we did not experience any major structural failures, which saved countless lives. I think there was a lesson to be learned after the Good Friday Earthquake (Magnitude 9.2) of 1964, which our local agencies have taken very seriously.”

– David Gamez, P.E., M.ASCE, vice president of the ASCE Alaska Section and civil engineer at Lounsbury and Associates, Anchorage

“Fred Nelson, our Region 8 governor for Alaska was up in September. We took advantage of his expertise and had him do a one-day training on “Procedures for Post-Earthquake Safety Evaluation of Buildings.” One of my civils took that training and is now putting that training to good use all over the city. She found the training to be very good and timely. She just wished we had sent more than only her to the training.

“As noted in the 2017 Alaska Infrastructure Report Card, we discuss the state’s approach to resilience against earthquakes. Our bridge section got B- (compared to C+ nationwide) in part because of the lessons learned from the 1964 earthquake.

“While it is amazing that several of the roads have already been repaired, it is not too much of a surprise. Our construction industry is very much geared towards fast and efficient construction. We have a very short construction season, high summer traffic, and limited alternative routes. Most ADOT road projects must be completed in very short time periods while minimizing traffic flow impacts. They have lots of experience working at night or in bad weather.

“Having said all that, it was a very big earthquake. There is a lot of property damage and it is very hard to judge the extent so soon afterwards, but it is a testament to Anchorage, its politicians, regulators, and the engineering community that there hasn’t been any deaths or major failure of public infrastructure.”

– Daniel Nichols

3 Comments
  • I think frozen soil did not give harm to foundations

  • I am just thankful everyone is safe out there. A testament to what the building/construction/design industry can do when they all work to common goals and take public safety as the top priority.

  • I am very interested in how the DOT was able to repair the roadways in winter conditions, specifically the paving. In MA, paving operations stop at 40 degrees, 35 if superpavement is used. Does Alaska have a technique or pavement formula that the rest of us don’t know about??

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