Nearly 150 years ago, an earthquake estimated at 7.8 magnitude struck California’s Inyo County in the Owens Valley killing 27 people in 1872.

The quake struck at 2:30 a.m. while most people in the sparcely populated area were sleeping. The small town of Lone Pine was hit hardest by the quake. Of the town’s 59 homes, 52 were destroyed. Major buildings in every town in the county were seriously damaged.

The most famous account of this earthquake, according to, came from John Muir, the famed explorer and scientist instrumental in the establishment of Yosemite National Park, who was working at the time in a hotel in the area.

“The shocks were so violent and varied, and succeeded one another so closely, one had to balance in walking as if on the deck of a ship among the waves, and it seemed impossible the high cliffs should escape being shattered,” reported Muir. Moments later he watched the destruction of a famed natural landmark, Eagle Rock, as it fell a short distance away, in a “stupendous roaring rock-storm.”

Scientists estimate that major earthquake faults tend to build up tension and then release it every 150 years or so. If those estimates prove correct, another large earthquake could come at any time.

“If an earthquake of this size strikes again in a more densely populated area of California, experts forecast a much higher loss of life, injuries and property damage,” says Ali Sahabi, principal of Optimum Seismic, Inc., an earthquake retrofit and structural engineering company located in the Los Angeles area. “It’s very important for owners and users of large commercial and industrial buildings, as well as apartments, to do seismic retrofits now to protect their businesses, investments and employees”

Investing in a retrofit represents a tangible step toward preventing damage or injury in a major earthquake.

The University of San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering studied the effects of retrofits using one of the world’s largest shake tables — a gigantic simulator big enough to support and shake a building. Their findings are that retrofits can help to prevent a building from falling, and keep it habitable after a quake.

In other studies, researchers at CalTech determined that for every dollar spent in retrofitting soft-story apartment structures, property owners can expect to save up to seven dollars, and that study didn’t factor in loss to contents, alternate living expenses or deaths and injuries – all of which would have significantly increased the cost-to-benefit ratios. The CalTech calculations found that seismic retrofits are cost-effective when expected annualized loss would be reduced by 50 percent or more at a cost that would equal no more than 10 percent of the replacement cost of a building.

“A combination of retrofitting a building and obtaining earthquake insurance does the most to protect a property owner,” says Sahabi. “Retrofitting is by far the safest option because it helps to secure the building and minimize damage, loss and liability risks. In addition, insurance helps to cover building owners in the event of damage, and the coverage can include loss of contents, loss of income, damage, liability and more.”