CA calls for earthquake prep

Recent news has California emergency officials telling the public to use their common sense and remember earthquake preparedness tips.

BY HEATHER MOYER | SACRAMENTO, Calif. | April 27, 2004

High water cut off Bolivar from the rest of the world for several days this January. (Photo courtesy of Curt Tyree)
Credit: Disaster News Network

Recent news has California emergency officials telling the public to use their common sense and remember earthquake preparedness tips.

One issue earthquake experts are responding to is the upcoming TV miniseries "10.5," which depicts California being devastated by a magnitude 10.5 earthquake.

"The first step in being prepared (for earthquakes) is understanding that Hollywood's upcoming earthquake miniseries puts myth, fantasy, and entertainment before factual science," said Director of California's Office of Emergency Services (OES) Dallas Jones in a news release.

Earthquake scientists agree that the catastrophic damage depicted in the film is unrealistic, and say that not only are the fault lines in California unable to produce an earthquake of that magnitude, but also that the state's building codes are strict enough to ensure that mass collapses of buildings and bridges won't occur.

Yet the OES is taking the miniseries, which airs on NBC May 2 and 3, as an opportunity to remind the state's residents of how to prepare for and respond to earthquakes. "No matter where you live, work, or travel in California, the earthquake risk is there and you must be ready for it," said Jones.

The OES is also using another news event as a chance for preparedness reminders. Earlier this year, a University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) geophysicist predicted that a magnitude 6.4 or greater quake will hit southern California by September. Scientists at university's Institute for Geophysics and Planetary Physics say they successfully predicted the December earthquake in California and the earthquake in Japan last September.

In response, the OES called a meeting of California Earthquake Prediction Evaluation Council (CEPEC), which includes experts from the California Geological Survey, the US Geological Survey, the OES, the California Institute of Technology, and the University of California at Berkley. CEPEC studied the UCLA team's prediction methods and released a response:

"(CEPEC concludes) that the results (of its study) do not at this time warrant any special public policy actions in California. Nevertheless, the southern California prediction, as well as the recent San Simeon earthquake, should serve to remind all Californians of the significant seismic hazards throughout the state. Regardless of the validity of the prediction, CEPEC recommends that all jurisdictions review and periodically exercise existing preparedness and response plans. Likewise, citizens of California who live in areas of high seismic activity should make sure they have undertaken all general preparedness actions recommended by emergency management organizations and the Red Cross."

Yet with or without miniseries or earthquake predictions causing a buzz, the OES has an active earthquake mitigation and preparedness plan. "We're mailing out brochures year-round," said Sheryl Tankersley, spokeswoman for the OES. "Our Web site also has extensive resources for the public." Tankersley said they also work closely with schools to educate students about earthquakes.

Last year the OES, the California Department of Education, the Seismic Safety Commission, and the California Department of General Services' Division of the State Architect released a joint manual entitled "A Guide and Checklist for Nonstructural Earthquake Hazards in California Schools." The guide offers ways for schools to make nonstructural components, such as light fixtures and cabinets, safer in the event of earthquakes.

In San Francisco, the city Office of Emergency Services (SFOES) focuses on personal and neighborhood preparedness, said SFOES Emergency Services Coordinator Jim Aldrich. He said his office also houses the San Francisco chapter of Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disaster (SFCARD). "The various CARDs in our region sprung up to focus on coordination of agency work before and during disasters," said Aldrich. SFCARD helps businesses and local community groups create disaster response plans, run disaster exercises, and share information.

He added that the SFOES also supports many community groups working on disaster preparedness and response, including the Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT) trainings. NERT trainings teach community members how to work as a team during disasters. The program, created in 1990, is run by the San Francisco Fire Department.

Officials say California residents, even without the government reminders, are very knowledgeable about earthquake risks and safety measures. "Communities out here are very cutting edge about these things," said Laura Hokenstand, Federal Emergency Management Agency voluntary agency liaison for Region IX. "They're also very active."

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