With the next big earthquake looming, state and local agencies
urge residents to stockpile emergency supplies
It’s been 16 years since the Loma Prieta rocked and ripped the South Valley apart. Since then, little tremors here and there haven’t given residents too big of a scare, but as geologists warn that an inevitably large quake looms, state and local agencies are asking, “Are you prepared?”
“It’s just a matter of time, and the big question is, is it days, months or years?” said Steve Walters, a geologist for the United States Geological Survey. “The more time that goes by, the bigger the quake will be.”
USGS geologists are most concerned with the Hayward fault, located in the hills of the East Bay, Walters said. When the fault finally snaps, a 6.9 to 7.0 earthquake will follow, causing severe shaking throughout the South Valley, he said.
Despite the daunting predictions, less than 10 percent of people in the region have disaster plans in place, according to a recent survey by the Association of Bay Area Governments. Public safety officials in Gilroy, Morgan Hill and Hollister are hoping residents are taking the warnings seriously and are getting prepared.
“Hopefully, the recent events on the Gulf Coast will open peoples’ eyes and keep the idea in the back of their minds that they need individual preparedness, and they can’t completely rely on the government to help them when it comes to natural disasters,” said Gilroy Fire Department Chief Dale Foster.
So when – not if – the big quake hits, how can residents protect themselves? Begin by making sure to have the right supplies and enough of them, Foster said.
“You should have enough to last at least 72 hours,” he said.
A checklist of supplies produced by the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services includes essentials such as water, canned food, a can opener and a portable radio; sanitation supplies; and safety and comfort items, such as heavy gloves for moving debris and a change of clothing. The most important items to store are food, water, blankets and necessary medications, Foster said.
“You should keep a box of supplies in the car,” he said. “Chances are if they’re a commuter, they’ll be in their car or near their car. And even if they’re not, their home could be damaged, so they may have better access to things stored in their vehicle.”
The emergency-supply items should number enough to cover the entire family, said Joe Sampson, special operations commander of the Morgan Hill Police Department.
“With 40,000 to 50,000 residents, cities our size aren’t staffed to provide a response to every person,” he said. “It’s not economically or practically feasible.”
Sampson said the city of Morgan Hill has an emergency plan in place, and should an earthquake occur, the police will try to keep residents informed.
“We would put a public service announcement on television, but if the power was out, we would go around town with a bullhorn advising people on what to do,” he said.
To help students keep calm in the case of an emergency, all eight schools in the Hollister School District practice earthquake drills throughout the year, said Peter Guiterrez, assistant superintendent and safety officer for the district. During the drills, a group of people role play as if they’ve suffered a major injury. The schools’ staff and students work together with personnel from the city’s fire and police departments to work through the imaginary catastrophe.
“Every school has a triage area, and everything is reported to the district office,” Guiterrez said. “Every school has medical packs, snacks and water.”
A Santa Cruz resident, Guiterrez has seen firsthand what damage a big quake can do. Although most schools have been retrofitted during the past decade, he said, businesses should be preparing as well.
“We have a false sense of security, as most communities do,” he said.
Because there is no telling when the quake will hit, Walters said putting together an emergency kit should be at the top of residents’ priority list.
“People are definitely not prepared,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re planning to put together a kit next week if the earthquake happens tomorrow.”