Chris after the Loma Prieta earthquake

Cruzio’s founder Chris Neklason reading a post-earthquake newspaper. The headlined death toll was more than twice the true number

Cruzio became a company just months before the Loma Prieta quake hit Santa Cruz in 1989.
At that time, there wasn’t much internet to speak of, just connections to email, newsgroups, and some little all-text applications that searched for books and papers on some libraries online.
Cruzio, run out of a spare bedroom in our home on Palm Street, had a few dozen subscribers. They were using Cruzio to communicate with the small number of other people who were online back then. Cruzio’s co-founders Chris Neklason and I had day jobs. It was more a hobby than a business.

All Shook Up

When the ground shook, Chris and I were at work at a local software company called The Santa Cruz Operation, or SCO.  Chris was on the second floor. His office chair slid around the room, an effect he at first enjoyed until the danger of a well-stocked bookshelf above him became obvious. On the first floor of the building, after a few seconds of waiting for the shaking to stop,  I saw my coworker Raven Brewster dive under a desk and followed suit.
Most quakes — the little ones we have from time to time — last just a few scary seconds. But this was a big one. We crawled out from our under desks after the long seconds of rocking and rolling passed — in all around 15 seconds.
Hundreds of computer manuals had tumbled off shelves. Stuff was all over the floor. The power was out. All the employees slowly made their way to the parking lot.

Eerie Scene

We looked out from our spot on Mission Street and saw smoke rising from a couple of places downtown. It was silent, eerily so. Cars weren’t moving, everyone had pulled over. Sirens weren’t wailing, at least not at first. Just silence and smoke.
We worried about downed power cables, about the potential for fires from ruptured gas lines — clearly there were already some of those. We couldn’t work, that was for sure. Our managers sent us home.
For Chris and me, home was 317 Palm Street and Cruzio (such as it was) ran in the spare bedroom upstairs.

A Delicious Post-Quake Dinner

After ensuring the gas was off and checking the house for damage, we sat down. No power, certainly not for a long time. We checked the freezer. We’d had a party a few days earlier, and had half a quart of vodka and a gallon of ice cream. We decided it was wise to consume those immediately.
Our families in Sacramento and New York were watching news reports that at first estimated hundreds of deaths and showed San Francisco on fire, Joe DiMaggio waiting on line for water. They learned that Santa Cruz was the epicenter of the disaster — surely we would have even more deaths and destruction! And with power out, little news was getting through. Phone service was spotty. They were relieved to finally hear from us.

Our Little Venture — the Internet — Turned Out to be Vital

Like the rest of our community, Cruzio was affected by the earthquake. Our server was fine but we had no electricity to run it. We ran completely on telephone lines at that time, and the phones were jammed and sporadic.
At first we thought, well, no one around here has electricity anyway, who will want internet?
But we learned otherwise.
In an emergency, communication becomes even more vital than normal. Most people in 1989 didn’t have the ability to get online, but those who did used it as soon as they could, and urgently. We got Cruzio back up and running within three days.
And we started preparing to do better in the next outage.
Realizing that Cruzio provides a lifeline service, we made backups and redundancy — power, telecommunication — a priority from 1989 on. We’ve stayed up all night many times when necessary. We’ve answered calls in heavy rainstorms or when fires were threatening, and rushed to our facilities in the mountains, where it’s even more cold and dark and remote than you can imagine.
If this sounds like the old Post Office motto, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” that makes sense. Like the post office once was, today internet service is a vital way that people communicate. And with the earthquake as our early crucible, we aim to keep our service up and running as long as we can.