Local Officials Prepare for the Next Big Earthquake

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday April 18, 2006

There is a 62 percent chance of an earthquake of a magnitude of 6.7 or greater striking the San Francisco Bay Area before the year 2032, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. 

Apart from generating structurally damaging ground motions from the eastern margin of the bay through the East Bay hills, and from Milpitas in the south to as far north as Petaluma, such an earthquake would also cause structural damage in San Francisco’s Financial District, and severe shaking throughout the Santa Clara Valley and eastward into the San Ramon and Livermore valleys. 

According to Jeff Lusk, chief of the Earthquake Program for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, USGS has predicted that a major rupture of the Hayward Fault would probably be the most devastating East Bay event in history because it would occur within the highly developed Interstate 880 corridor.  

According to a July 2004 assessment, an earthquake of magnitude 6.9 on the Hayward Fault with Berkeley as the epicenter could displace between up to 12,000 households, leaving hundreds injured or dead. 

“This quake is long overdue,” Lusk said. “When it occurs, gas, water, transportation, and communication will all be disrupted. If the father works in Albany, the mother teaches at Cal and the kid goes to school somewhere else, there is a chance that they might be separated for days, even weeks. Medical and emergency services will be overwhelmed. In a word, the situation will be extremely chaotic.” 

He added that the one good thing that came out of the hurricanes in the Gulf Coast last year was increased awareness of the potential of natural disasters. 

“Not just Berkeley, but California as a whole is no longer in denial,” he said. “People realize that this is going to be a catastrophic disaster. They realize that government services will not be able to help them for the first 72 to 96 hours. They will have to have adequate food and water stocked up to last for at least five days.” 

Berkeley Assistant Fire Chief Gil Dong said that in the aftermath of a major earthquake in Berkeley, lack of water could become a cause for concern.  

“Residents should store up on a gallon of water per person per day for at least five days,” he said. “We are working with neighborhoods on earthquake preparedness through Community Emergency Response Training classes and Neighborhood Network Discussion programs that will teach neighbors to start a neighborhood network focused on disaster preparedness.”  

Since Hurricane Katrina, the city’s Office of Emergency Services has given disaster preparedness talks to more than 1,500 Berkeley residents.  

Jesse Townley, chair of Berkeley’s Disaster Council, said that his office supported the OES by advocating for proper funding as well as volunteering to teach the training classes, fill emergency caches in the Berkeley schools, and be vocal about the need for residents to be ready to survive on their own for at least five days after the next big quake. 

“We also work on other initiatives and laws to safeguard our city, like working with the Planning Department and the city manager’s office on the unreinforced masonry, soft-story, and seismic retrofit programs,” he said.  

The structures in the city that face the most danger from earthquakes are the unreinforced masonry buildings and soft-story buildings.  

“Embarrassingly enough, one of the few unreinforced masonry buildings left is a city building in the corporation yard that houses the city’s backup radio system,” Townley said.  

Soft-story buildings—usually apartment buildings built over an open parking area on the ground floor—face a higher risk because of their design.  

The implementation of a new city law requires owners of these buildings to retrofit the buildings to make sure that they stand up long enough for people to safely escape when an earthquake occurs.  

According to Townley, because the law does not affect structures with four units or fewer, the next step needs to be tenant and landlord education. 

“Finally,” he said, “much of the Berkeley flatlands are built on landfill which will liquefy in a strong earthquake. If the quake is strong enough, houses will be flattened and it’ll depend on the strength of retrofit work if occupants will be able to exit before the house collapses.” 

Townley also said he wants to install part or all of a curriculum like the Red Cross’ Masters of Disaster program in the public schools. 

Should a large-scale disaster occur, Berkeley will be requesting mutual-aid through the State Mutual Aid System.  

“Through the mutual aid system, all resources including food, water, emergency personnel, building inspectors, etc., can be requested,” said Assistant Fire Chief Gil Dong. “The city is also finalizing a memorandum of understanding with the American Red Cross, Berkeley Unified School District and UC Berkeley that will identify potential shelters in a large scale disaster.”  

Today, on the 100-year anniversary of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, UC Berkeley—along with regional partner agencies such as the City of Berkeley, City of Albany, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Alta Bates-Summit Medical Center, Bayer Health Care Corporation and others—plans to carry out a Shockwave Centennial Disaster Training Exercise to simulate the 1906 San Andreas Fault Quake.  

Tom Klatt, manager of Emergency Preparedness at UC Berkeley, said the university has always served as a model for other universities when it came to disaster resistance.  

“In 1999, we became the first disaster resistant campus in the country,” he said. “However, you can never be prepared enough for an earthquake. There is always more to do in terms of updating disaster preparedness procedures.” 

The university carries out one earthquake drill every year and has two satellite phones on campus for use in case of major communication disruption, Klatt said. Although buildings on campus are being strengthened to reduce casualties and damages from a future quake, students are strongly encouraged to be self-sufficient.  

Klatt added, “Since each campus building has a designated evacuation area it is important for students to find out where these Emergency Assembly Areas (EAAs) are for their residence hall and classroom buildings.” 


For further information on earthquake preparedness see www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/fire/oes.html, www.72hours.org, or call the Office of Emergency Services at 981-5605.