ENR Has a Long History Of Covering Earthquakes

Looking Ahead. Team leader Nadine Post (seated center) kept the group focused on the strides forward in seismic design. Tom Armistead, Aileen Cho, Scott Lewis and Tom Sawyer (clockwise from left) contributed. Nancy Soulliard and Guy Lawrence created the layouts and design.

The editors of 1906 wrote, “A concentrated population of 400,000 enormously wealthy and active, was in a single day reduced to its last loaf and open air, with a wrecked water system and only a few hours supply of water...for 60 hours this community was in helpless retreat before a great unchecked conflagration.”

Engineering News reported that the fire overshadowed the earthquake in causing human suffering, but said, “the earthquake results will yield teachings of very great interest.” The story notes the “remarkable circumstances attending the start of the conflagration:” simultaneous eruption of fire at numerous points, the paralysis of warning systems, blocking of streets, escape of gas “and the (probable) complete failure of the water system soon after the earthquake shock.”

Then as now, the editors looked for lessons. The fire destroyed much evidence on the resistance of engineered structures, and of the structures left standing, “it will be difficult to unravel the tangle of earthquake and fire actions,” they wrote.

This week’s special report, starting on p. 22, covers the major milestones in seismic design in the century past. But Editor-at-Large Nadine Post kept the 2006 reporting team focused on the milestones ahead as supercomputing catapults quake prediction, protection and preparedness into a new era.

he April 26, 1906, issue of Engineering News carried the headline “The San Francisco Disaster: Earthquake and Fire Ruin in the Bay Counties of California.” The editors of the magazine that became ENR when it merged with Engineering Record in 1913 postponed the articles they had planned for publication that week and used the space for coverage of this major disaster—just as we do when disaster strikes today.