Cinna Lomnitz is possibly the most distinguished earthquake seismologist in all of Central and South America. Among many other credentials, Lomnitz has personally experienced the shaking and devastation that accompanied no fewer than five major earthquakes—Chile, 1939; Kern County, California, 1952; Chile, 1960; Caracas,Venezuela, 1967; and Mexico City, 1985. Thus he clearly has much to teach someone like myself, who has never even actually felt a real earthquake.
What is this slim book? The Road to Total Earthquake Safety summarizes Lomnitz's May 1999 presentation at the Seventh Mallet-Milne Lecture, sponsored by the Society for Earthquake and Civil Engineering Dynamics. His arguments are motivated by the damage that occurred in three earthquakes—Mexico City, 1985; Loma Prieta, California, 1989; and Kobe, Japan, 1995. All three quakes occurred in regions where earthquakes are common. Yet in all three some of the worst damage occurred in structures located a significant distance from the epicenter and engineered specifically to resist earthquakes. Some of the damage also indicated that the structures failed because they had experienced considerable rotational or twisting motion. Clearly, Lomnitz argues, there must be fundamental flaws in the usually accepted models explaining how earthquakes generate strong motions, and how we should design resistant structures.