Calif. city gets wireless jump on earthquake damage

Calif. city gets wireless jump on earthquake damage

Scott Fabbro, project coordinator for the land information system of Glendale, Calif., learned from the experiences of his father, a Federal Emergency Management Agency inspector, how vital geographic data can be in an emergency.

'My dad never touched a computer,' Fabbro said. 'I'd go into his office in Pasadena, and he would have stacks and stacks of binders.' Each binder represented a structure he was responsible for inspecting and marking with pins on a map. The elder Fabbro inspected property damage after the powerful Northridge earthquake that hit California in 1994.

Now Glendale's property inspectors report damage wirelessly from the field with Fujitsu notebook PCs, Compaq iPaq handhelds and other wireless devices. They use Accela ERS emergency response software from Accela Inc. of San Francisco, which combines a geographic information system with FEMA's ATC-20 building safety evaluation form.

Inspectors mark on a digital map the location of damage and its severity. Other city employees can then pull up the map online.

Before the city began using the wireless system in 1999, the damage reporting process was cumbersome, Fabbro said. An inspector would call in an incident, and Fabbro would create a damage report. The inspector would then return to the office with a stack of ATC-20 forms to map.

Glendale, located about 10 miles from the epicenter of the 1994 earthquake, suffered significant damage including collapsed parking structures. Fabbro said that if the city had had the ERS system then, officials could have given 'a profound level of service to the people affected.' As it was, they took weeks to find the heaviest pockets of damage, Fabbro said. With the GIS system, 'We could have seen the damage like a rash,' he said.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.


  • business meeting (Monkey Business Images/

    Civic tech volunteers help states with legacy systems

    As COVID-19 exposed vulnerabilities in state and local government IT systems, the newly formed U.S. Digital Response stepped in to help. Its successes offer insight into existing barriers and the future of the civic tech movement.

  • data analytics (

    More visible data helps drive DOD decision-making

    CDOs in the Defense Department are opening up their data to take advantage of artificial intelligence and machine learning tools that help surface insights and improve decision-making.

Stay Connected