With disaster preparedness suddenly on everyone’s minds, the Berkeley Unified School District published its District Emergency Response Plan in last week’s school board packet for the first time in what school officials called “many years.”
Board members were quick to point out the obvious flaw in the plan: the same district staff which will be directing emergency response is presently housed in an unsafe facility.
The four-page document envisions that in the event of a major disaster, an Emergency Operations Center will be set up at the Berkeley Alternative High School.
With an earthquake being the most likely such disaster in the East Bay, BUSD Facilities Director Lew Jones told board members that the Alternative High School was chosen because it is a one-story building less likely to suffer earthquake damage than the district’s present administrative offices.
But board members noted that the emergency staff personnel on the district’s command list to operate the Emergency Operations Center would all have to come from either the district’s administration headquarters at Old City Hall or from the district’s Oregon-Russell street facilities. Both of those facilities are considered earthquake unsafe, and the obvious but unstated implication was that in the case of a catastrophic earthquake, many of the staff members needed to manage the district’s emergency response might not even be able to make it out of the buildings.
During the discussion, Superintendent Michele Lawrence shook her head in a gesture of dismay and frustration. Lawrence has made it a priority to move district operations out of the Old City Hall and Oregon-Russell street facilities to the West Campus property on University Avenue. But because of renovations needed for the University Avenue property, that relocation is still several years away.
The Alternative High School facility is six blocks down Martin Luther King Jr. Way from the district’s administrative offices. Closer alternatives to the Alternative High School site would be the Berkeley High School facility across the street, or the City of Berkeley’s projected emergency operations center at the city’s Public Safety Building. That building is next door to the district’s administrative offices at Old City Hall.
Part of the district’s emergency planning involves the stockpiling of emergency supplies at strategic locations and conducting ongoing emergency training for school and district personnel.
District staff members presented the board with a disaster command chart which listed staff assignments, along with alternates, for the various disaster response responsibilities.
Facilities Manager Lew Jones was the overall Incident Manager, with finance head Eric D. Smith and curriculum and instruction head Neil Smith as his alternates. Listed under the Incident Manager were staff assignments for liaison with the City of Berkeley and Alameda County, liaison with Berkeley High School, public information, safety, operations, planning and intelligence, logistics, and finance and administration. Many of those categories were broken down into sub-category assignments, including such items as medical, transportation, damage assessment, and care and shelter.
Also included in the document was a Communication Plan based upon close to 200 district-owned two-way radios, which have been distributed throughout the district’s schools and non-instructional sites. The document said that the two-way radios were preferable to other forms of communication, which it said “are vulnerable to significant disruption in the event of an earthquake.”
Board President Nancy Riddle said that school officials have been meeting regularly with city disaster planners, and that the district has been assigned a special emergency channel for its communications separate from other agencies.
District officials said that the district’s emergency preparedness plan will be continuously updated, as well as being aligned with the various individual school safety plans..