Bay Area airports not prepared for major quake

The Associated Press
Monday March 12, 2001

SAN JOSE – Although millions of airport dollars have been tossed toward retrofitting buildings and disaster planning since the 1989 Bay area earthquake, airports here are in no better shape than Seattle was during the major shaker there last month. 

“If it were a major deal, we’d just wing it,” said Kyle Johnson, spokesman for air traffic controllers at Oakland International. “We’d go stand on top of a building somewhere with some radios and a cell phone and land some planes — assuming the runways are still there.” 

Following the 6.8-magnitude Seattle quake, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association is calling for inspections of control towers throughout the earthquake-prone West. The move came after the tower’s windows shattered and three of its support beams buckled at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport during the Feb. 28 quake. 

Controllers there were forced to evacuate the tower and set up temporary operations at a nearby jet hangar. They landed planes using hand-held radios, all part of their emergency plan. 

Air traffic controllers at San Jose International Airport would be “running around like ants, not knowing where to go,” if a big quake shook the airport said Rich Burton, spokesman for San Jose controllers. He says there are no updated preparedness plans to establish a temporary control center. 

In addition, airport personnel safety is of concern along with the ability to use runways to transport quake victims or vital supplies, equipment and recovery groups. 

A government report says Oakland’s runways stand a 61 percent chance of damage severe enough o close the facility for a month or longer if the Hayward fault begins rumbling.