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Few prepared for Bay Area quake

Study finds 95% of homeowners in San Francisco area do not have earthquake insurance.

BY BOND BRUNGARD | SAN FRANCISCO | April 7, 2008

The what-ifs are staggering.

What if an earthquake, measuring at least 7 on the Richter scale, struck California’s San Francisco Bay Area? According to a recent report, most building owners do not have earthquake insurance in one of the world’s most valuable real estate markets.

A report recently commissioned by the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, found that a temblor in the Bay Area of at least a seven magnitude could strike anytime along the Hayward Fault. And could, according to the analysis, result in at least $165 billion or as much as $1.5 trillion of property and economic damage and leave millions homeless.

The study found that 95 percent of the homeowners and 85 percent of the commercial buildings don’t have earthquake insurance.

In addition, the Association of Bay Area Governments found that less than 40 percent of homes in the Bay Area have been retrofitted to deter any quake damage and that only about 10 percent have been strengthened to sustain major damage and remain habitable.

And none of this surprises Don Read, who wears both hats as the emergency services coordinator for the Salvation Army in San Diego and as president of VOAD’s California south division.

“Don’t go to bed unless you have a full tank of gas,” warns Read from a state where the second home is usually parked in the driveway. “The reality is people are not really ready. They’ll address it when it happens.”

Scientists have researched the history of the Hayward Fault from 1315 to 1868 and found that a quake strikes every 140 years on this fault line, and Oct. 21 is the anniversary.

If another major quake strikes soon in the Bay Area, in contrast, damages from Hurricane Katrina that were estimated at $141 billion could pale in comparison to the impact in California.

The 1906 San Francisco earthquake, with an estimated magnitude of 7.7, was one of the worst disasters in U.S. history. More than 3,000 people were estimated to have died as a result of the quake that left 225,000 people homeless more than half of the region’s residents in 1906. At least 28,000 buildings were destroyed.

The most costly quake in U.S. history was the Northridge Earthquake that struck Southern California in January 1994. About 9,000 people were injured and 57 were killed in that 6.7 quake which caused approximately $20 billion in total property damage.

While earthquake damage is obvious and well documented, there is still a matter of responding in damaged infrastructure, possibly without the convenience of passable roads and modern communications.

“When the freeway shuts down,” Read said. “The only way to get around is to walk,” he said.

And it’s this fault line that Read and others live around and worry about the next Big One. To prepare for these disasters, Read and others encourage businesses and disaster preparedness organizations to get on the same page when it comes to functioning after the fact.

“We encourage everybody to come into conformity with their business plans,” he said.

Families also matter. Like the emergency responders in Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina who stayed in contact with their families, while separated for days and by miles, Read knows the same would happen if a major quake struck California.

So how do you complete the mission in front of you if team members are unable to perform their duties due to hampered logistics or are simply missing in action? Read said duties have to be broken down into certain tasks, which are undertaken by existing team members when others are missing.

Responding to smaller earthquakes has also prepared responders. Eddie Neufeld, of Mennonite Disaster Service, was sent to the Napa Valley in 2003 and worked on homes damaged in an earthquake in that region as well as helping prepare for future temblors.

Read said a ham radio will be one the best ways to communicate if a major earthquake strikes the Golden State and communicate across state and national borders into Mexico with ham radio operators. Read said San Diego County alone has 7,000 ham radio operators and thousands more throughout the state.


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