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1994 Northridge Earthquake

As the City of Los Angeles slumbered in the early morning hours of January 17, 1994, the earth began to shake from the onset of another California trembler. When the shaking quickly turned to violent convulsions accompanied by a deafening roar, the City’s residents were at once confronted with the worst disaster in modern Los Angeles history. A 6.8 magnitude earthquake with its epicenter in the San Fernando Valley suburb of Northridge had nearly crushed Los Angeles at 4:31 a.m.

The City was only just recently recovering from the still hauntingly vivid memories of the previous fall’s brush fires, and the selective destruction that had accompanied the 1992 civil unrest. The earthquake was not as discriminatory in its destruction. Apartment buildings throughout San Fernando Valley toppled to the ground as older homes collapsed and burned in South Central Los Angeles. Office buildings containing small businesses as well as large government offices were either destroyed or declared uninhabitable. Roadways from the mighty Golden State Freeway to the perpetually busy Santa Monica Freeway collapsed, immediately stranding commuters and, in the aftermath, snarling local and statewide traffic for weeks and months to come.

Fifty-seven people died that morning and in the days that followed from earthquake-related injuries. Thousands were injured; thousands more found themselves suddenly homeless. Gas, water, and electricity were cut from many areas throughout the City, with several areas not resuming service for days and, in some cases, weeks. As this unbelievable tragedy descended upon the entire City, its citizens admirably reached out to comfort one another, assisting the injured, searching for survivors and gathering up what remained of their personal belongings.

Amid all the chaos, the LAPD, along with a cadre of emergency workers, manned the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) four floors below City Hall East and immediately dealt with thousands of requests for help. Faced with simultaneous Citywide hazardous material spills, broken gas mains, hundreds of fires, and sporadic looting, the EOC was able to adequately assess damage and dispatch thousands of police, firefighters, Sheriff’s Deputies and National Guard troops to the hardest-hit areas. Much of this was accomplished despite a downed computer system and three temporarily disabled police stations — all within the area closest to the quake’s epicenter.

Within hours of the quake, the LAPD was completely mobilized, with all available officers working 12-hour shifts. The LAPD remained mobilized for one week after the quake, with Valley Bureau remaining on emergency status even longer, aided by reinforcements from surrounding Bureaus.

The Department’s quick reaction to the disaster was applauded by citizens who, with sighs of relief, welcomed police protection in quake-ravaged neighborhoods. Because of increased staffing and Department-imposed, dusk-to-dawn curfew in the 24 hours following the quake, the number of arrests Citywide dramatically decreased, allowing the men and women of the Los Angeles Police Department to demonstrate their obligations to protect and to serve unfailingly under harrowing working conditions.