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Is the Bay Area ready for the next
big earthquake?

By Kelly Paku, Bay City News Service

April 4, 2006

On April 18, 1906, the great San Francisco earthquake rocked the Bay Area and now, 100 years later, researchers and state officials alike are advising residents to be prepared because it's only a matter of time before the next big temblor strikes again.

During the 1906 earthquake, without warning, the San Andreas Fault ruptured 296 miles from San Juan Bautista to the triple junction at Cape Mendocino producing a magnitude 7.8 earthquake, according to Tom Brocher, Northern California co coordinator of earthquake hazards investigations for the U.S. Geological Survey.

After about one minute of shaking, the earthquake and resulting fires caused an estimated 700 deaths and millions of dollars in property loss throughout the Bay Area, according to a USGS Web site. Years later, on Oct. 17, 1989, the San Andreas Fault ruptured again resulting in the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake, according to the USGS.

Today, Brocher says there is a 62 percent chance that the Bay Area will have a magnitude 6.7 earthquake or greater in the next 30 years.

"That's a two-thirds chance of having a damaging earthquake in the next 30 years," Brocher said. "A big earthquake is going to strike the Bay Area soon. It's going to be bigger and worse than the Loma Prieta earthquake."

According to Brocher, the Federal Emergency Management Agency predicts that, if there was a 6.9 earthquake on the Hayward Fault - which stretches from San Pablo to Fremont - there would be about 500 deaths and 2,300 injuries.

As well, according to Brocher, the Association of Bay Area Governments says that, in light of a major earthquake, there would be 150,000 uninhabitable buildings and at least 300,000 people without shelter in the Bay Area. The damage caused by the earthquake would cost a staggering $23 billion.

"The Hayward Fault has produced really big dangerous earthquakes every 150 years. The last one was in 1868," Brocher said. "That means we're do for another big earthquake on the fault in the next 12 years or so."

With the overwhelming likelihood that another big quake will hit the Bay Area sooner than later, Lt. John Quinlan, director of the San Mateo County Office of Emergency Services and Homeland Security, is warning residents that general preparedness will be the best way to survive another big temblor.

"You can't prevent it. You can't detect it. You can just prepare for it," Quinlan said. "If you're prepared for an earthquake your prepared for anything else like a tsunami or wildfire."

According to Quinlan, the nine Bay Area counties are well equipped and prepared to deal with any natural or man-made disaster that may come California's way.

Quinlan referred to the state's Standardized Emergency Management System, which, in a nutshell, is a multi-level response plan that links local and state disaster response teams in the event of some type of disaster.

According to Tina Walker, a spokeswoman for the Governor's Office of Emergency Services, through SEMS the state OES will offer assistance to individual county OES teams as needed through the coordination and deployment of statewide resources.

"Over the past centuries California has made great strides in increasing government and private sector emergency preparedness," Walker said. "As we continue to work through each disaster we learn things." It was after the Loma Prieta earthquake that FEMA created the state's Urban Search and Rescue Response System. These task forces are trained to rescue structural collapse victims, Walker said.

"Every disaster is different in the nature and how it impacts us," Walker said. "Personal preparedness is going to be the key to survival."

According Quinlan, residents need to prepare to be on their own for up to a week immediately following an earthquake.

"We could have 25 "ground zeros" in the Bay Area. How many first responders are going to be there rescuing people with broken arms or bumps on their heads," Quinlan asked.

In addition to possible injuries, state OES public information officer Greg Renick says up to 65 percent of Bay Area residents will be without potable water for about three days following a major quake. He also said it could take about three days for electricity to be restored.

"We're going to make every effort to respond as efficiently and quickly as possible," Renick said.

Though many Web sites, including the San Francisco Office of Emergency Services and Homeland Security's 72hours.org, are dedicated to helping people plan ahead for any type of disaster, Quinlan said he worries that not enough people have taken the time to make an emergency kit.

"Before Katrina we said 10 percent of Bay Area residents had kits," Quinlan said. "Now we'd like to think that it's between 30 and 40 percent."

Quinlan said residents should grab a trash can and fill it with food, water, blankets, first-aid kits, flashlights, photocopies of medical prescriptions, spare clothing, and proof of insurance.

Families need to create reunification plans, have alternate forms of transportation and setup emergency contact numbers outside the immediate area.

"There's going to be a lot of anxiety, fear, frustration and anger," Quinlan said. "We have so much potential for so many bad things here but we're prepared."

Copyright © 2006 by Bay City News, Inc. -- Republication, Rebroadcast or any other Reuse without the express written consent of Bay City News, Inc. is prohibited.




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