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City not ready for big quake

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Saturday May 05, 2001

In anticipation of a major earthquake that could isolate Berkeley for up to seven days, the City Council and the Board of Education are holding a joint meeting Tuesday to discuss a preparedness plan. 

A Disaster Council report estimates the city’s needs in the aftermath of a 7.0 earthquake. According to the report, an earthquake that size could render 25 percent of Berkeley residences uninhabitable leaving as many as 20,000 people without shelter.  

The Disaster Council calls for a partnership between the School Board and the city to prepare schools and neighborhoods for a major earthquake, an event most experts say could happen at any time. 

The council’s report says that the American Red Cross is woefully unprepared for a major quake. The ARC only has 10,000 cots in storage for  

the entire Bay Area, less than 

4 percent of the estimated 275,000 that will be needed.  

“The City of Berkeley is responsible for the care and shelter of its citizens following an earthquake or other disaster. We are obligated to prepare for that eventuality,” says the Disaster Council report. 

Associate Analyst of the Office of Emergency Services, Dory Ehrlich, said if there is a major quake on the Hayward fault, which runs through the UC Berkeley campus, the city will need enough tents, cots and blankets to shelter those who have lost their homes.  

The Disaster Council estimates the cost of properly preparing the city at $1.3 million. The funds have not been identified yet, but Ehrlich said the Disaster Council is hoping the city’s general fund would allocate the necessary funding for the various preparedness programs.  

The report recommends the city and School Board focus on three areas of readiness: preparing schools, stockpiling emergency supplies and citizen emergency training. 

The report suggests Berkeley stockpile emergency supplies in 20-foot-long metal storage containers. The containers would be filled with food, water, first-aid equipment as well as search and rescue supplies. The report recommends stashing the containers in schools. 

The schools have been seismically retrofitted and are expected to withstand a large earthquake. This makes them good candidates for emergency centers after an earthquake.  

Children are an especially vulnerable population in the event of a disaster and, according to the report, the city’s schools are not fully prepared. Emergency services are likely to be overwhelmed and the report suggests schools be prepared to care for students for up to seven days without outside help. 

The schools will face three tasks after a severe earthquake: sheltering and caring for children, rescue and emergency first aid, and switching to use as public shelter facilities. 

In order to accomplish these tasks, school employees will have to be trained and have access to emergency supplies. To date school employees have received very little training and only some schools have modest amounts of supplies, according to the report. 

The report suggests an increase in the Community Emergency Response Training budget of $3,750 to expand the CERT training program to Berkeley High School. The extra funding will cover the publication of 750 CERT training manuals and extra Office of Emergency Services training and support staff. 

The report warns that neighborhoods could be on their own after a major earthquake and neighborhoods should also be prepared for self sufficiency for up to seven days. 

It’s recommended the city step up its current citizen training. According to the report, 700 citizens have attended emergency training courses since August 1999. It is suggested the city continue to reach out to community groups such as Neighborhood Watch organizations and other groups to make them aware of the importance of being prepared.  

To accomplish these things the Emergency Council recommends the city hire a full-time emergency planner, a neighborhood coordinator, an emergency response trainer and office support staff. 

“The question is not whether we will suffer such an event, but when,” the report reads. “We are well on our way to being a prepared community. But now is not the time to falter, there is still much work to be done.” 

The joint City Council and Board of Education meeting will be convened on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, 2134 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way.