Residents learn how to survive after an earthquake

Lessons in Atherton will help all communities

"Is a large earthquake in the Bay Area inevitable? Yes, it is."

Brad Aagaard, a research geophysicist for the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, has scientific research to back up that warning, which he shared at a recent emergency preparedness event in Atherton.

He also warned that unless communities prepare, "things are going to be pretty miserable" after that inevitable disaster.

"Your quality of life after the earthquake is really going to depend on how well prepared you are," he said. "If we are not prepared there will be severe social and economic disruption."

Atherton's March 26 "Get Ready Atherton" event was designed to help residents get ready for the inevitable, and the lessons could help all communities.

Scott Barnum, who heads the Atherton Disaster and Preparedness Team, warned residents that they are pretty much going to be on their own in a major disaster, maybe for several days. First responders, such as firefighters and police, will go first to where the biggest problems are and where the most people are affected. That may not be Atherton, nor Woodside, Portola Valley or even Menlo Park.

"We have to be self-dependent," Mr. Barnum said.

Menlo Park Fire Protection District Division Chief Manny Navarro said residents must ask what they need to do to help themselves, their family and their neighbors.

Right now, Mr. Barnum said, fewer than 10 percent of households are prepared.

'We saw what happened in Napa not nine months ago and that was a moderate earthquake," he said.

Residents need to be able to survive at least four days without utilities, Mr. Barnum said. Having supplies for a week is even better.

"Get involved with your neighborhood," he said, which in Atherton means joining the preparedness team; in the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, joining the Community Emergency Response Team; and in the Woodside Fire Protection District, joining the Citizens Emergency Response Preparedness Program.

All the organizations train and equip residents to take care of their family and neighbors in an emergency.

Know the risk

Many disasters that hit other parts of the country floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and wildfires give some advance warning, leaving time for an evacuation and safety measures.

But, so far, no one has figured out how to warn of an earthquake more than seconds in advance.

In early March, the USGS released revised predictions for earthquakes in California during the next 30 years. The San Francisco Bay Area has a 100 percent chance of having an earthquake the size of the Napa quake, magnitude 6.0 or greater, within the next 30 years, according to the report. In fact, the model says such earthquakes will occur in the Bay Area every 10 years on average.

The chance of a magnitude 6.7 or greater earthquake within the next 30 years is 75 percent, and the chance of a magnitude 7.0 or greater earthquake is about 50 percent.

Chances of an earthquake on the Hayward or Calaveras faults are greater than on the San Andreas Fault because the 1906 San Francisco earthquake relieved that fault's stress, Mr. Aagaard said.

While the Midpeninsula might be mostly spared from the worst shaking from a quake on the Hayward fault, there would still be consequences. "Our water comes across the Hayward fault," Mr. Aagaard said. "It's going to disrupt a lot of our lifelines in terms of power and water and transportation."

Most people have a vague idea what the magnitude numbers mean. Earthquake intensity is measured by the Moment Magnitude Scale, which has replaced the Richter scale. The scale, which measures the amount of energy released by an earthquake, is logarithmic, with each whole number being 32 times greater than the previous number. That means a magnitude 8.0 earthquake will release roughly 1,000 times as much energy as a 6.0 quake.

Looking at the damage predicted from different sizes of earthquakes may be an easier way to visualize the impact.

Mr. Aagaard compared the effects of a magnitude 6.8 earthquake and a 7.0 earthquake on the Hayward fault. With just a 0.2 increase in the intensity scale, a 7.0 earthquake is predicted to cause four times as many deaths, twice as many households left homeless, and more than three times as many injuries.

Be Prepared

The Red Cross says three simple things will make life after a disaster much simpler: having a disaster kit, having a plan for what to do in a disaster, and being informed of local dangers.

Making personal and household survival kits

The USGS publication, "Putting Down Roots in Earthquake County," suggests each family member have a personal disaster kit in a backpack or other small bag that is kept where it can be easily reached at home, in the car, at work or school.

In addition, each household should have a kit stored in an easily accessible location, preferably outdoors (not in a garage) in a large watertight container (such as a garbage can) that can be easily moved. Replace perishable items, including water, food, medications, and batteries, yearly.

Here are the recommendations for filling each kit:

Personal disaster kits

● Medications, a list of prescriptions, copies of medical insurance cards, doctors' names and contact information.

● Medical consent forms for dependents.

● First aid kit and handbook.

● Spare eyeglasses, personal hygiene supplies, and sturdy shoes.

● Bottled water.

● Whistle (to alert rescuers to your location).

● Emergency cash.

● Personal identification.

● List of emergency contact phone numbers.

● Snack foods high in calories.

● Emergency lighting: light sticks and (or) a working flashlight with extra batteries and light bulbs (hand-powered flashlights are also available).

● Comfort items, such as games, crayons, writing materials and teddy bears.

Household disaster kit

A 3- to 5-day, but preferably 7-day, supply of the following items:

● Drinking water (minimum one gallon per person per day).

● First-aid supplies, medications, and essential hygiene items, such as soap, toothpaste, and toilet paper.

● Emergency lighting: light sticks and (or) a working flashlight with extra batteries and light bulbs (hand-powered flashlights are also available).

● A hand-cranked or battery-operated radio (and spare batteries).

● Canned and packaged foods and cooking utensils, including a manual can opener.

● Items to protect you from the elements, such as warm clothing, sturdy shoes, extra socks, blankets, and perhaps even a tent.

● Heavy-duty plastic bags for waste and to serve other uses, such as tarps and rain ponchos.

● Work gloves and protective goggles.

● Pet food and pet restraints.

● Copies of vital documents, such as insurance policies and personal identification.

Download a PDF of the USGS publication, "Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country.

Where to find more information

Each community's neighborhood emergency preparedness organization has a website with lots of links to information, classes and how to get involved:

The Atherton Disaster and Preparedness Team (ADAPT).

The Woodside Fire Protection District's Citizens Emergency Response Preparedness Program (CERPP).

The Menlo Park Fire Protection District's Community Emergency Response Team (CERT).

Pacific Gas and Electric also has a list of disaster resources.

The American Red Cross has a new free app for Apple or Android phones.

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