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September 30, 2009 > Preparing for the next earthquake

Preparing for the next earthquake

By Corinne Davis

The last five Hayward Fault-earthquakes were 140 years apart on average and the last occurred 141 years ago. Overdue by a year, Union City Assistant Fire Chief Andy Smith predicts the Hayward Fault will move in the next 20 years affecting nearly every person within the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area and most of those who live nearby.

The damage may mean roads will no longer be navigable. They will not be there. There were about 140 road closures in the aftermath of Loma Prieta and Northridge but almost 2,000 roads and highways are expected to collapse in the next Hayward quake. It might be worse. The chimney might collapse, tear through the bedroom ceiling, injure or kill people or damage the home. Perhaps the ground on which the house sits might rise six feet, or sink, and rupture water and gas lines and cause flooding or fire.

"These concerns are critical," stated Joan Malloy, Union City Economic and Community Development Director before an audience of 20 people at the Holly Center on September 21. "After the Loma Prieta earthquake, more than 16,000 homes were uninhabitable. After Northridge, more than 46,000 could not be occupied. Three times as many, more than 155,000, are expected after the Hayward or San Andreas earthquakes."

Preparing for earthquake damages

While no one can prevent damage, citizens can learn about and take precautions to mitigate it.

"The worst damage can come from the garage," Smith said. "We don't even think about all the things in there that are highly flammable."

A bedroom ceiling can be reinforced with a plywood slab to prevent bricks from penetrating. A family can store extra water and food and learn the location of gas valves and how to turn them off. This could save their home from fire if gas lines break. There is more information on on preparing homes and businesses and dealing with driving after disasters. The website advises how to deal with floods, wildfires, landslides, tsunamis and faults before they cause damage and, if damage is sustained, how to cope until help arrives. The website contains a link for children to learn what to do if an earthquake occurs when they are away from home.

Figuring out what to do

According to Andy Smith, most citizens will be on their own during the first 72 hours after an earthquake. Police and fire departments will be preoccupied with the worst disasters and unavailable, even with assistance from emergency departments from other towns. This is not a failure of responsibility but simply a case of insufficient emergency personnel to respond to widespread damage. If citizens are proactive about earthquakes and other disasters such as flooding, ground movement (liquefaction) and other consequences, they may be able to minimize damage.

Where the help is

ABAG (the Association of Bay Area Governments) has an interactive map on its website that allows citizens to input their location and choose an earthquake scenario because each fault will affect specific areas differently. With this information, citizens will be aware of the greatest dangers facing them. For instance, proximity to a dam that may burst, a stream that might break its banks or a hill that could shift. The website explains what measures they can take to prevent damage, to mitigate damage or how to cope if damage has occurred.


CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) training is a free program that teaches citizens how to care for themselves and help others. Five modules, each lasting about four hours, deal with how to make a house safer, administer first aid, conduct basic search and rescue, how to use a fire extinguisher, utility controls, some disaster psychology, terrorist attacks, and dealing with hazardous materials. After a disaster, many offer to help but many well-meaning citizens can exacerbate injury unintentionally. So, Alameda County requires rescuers to carry the certification although those untrained may join as affiliates. Alameda County is also implementing a Disaster Services Worker program to match skills with a job bank. For information, visit and click on CERT or call Fire Admin on 510-675-5470.


About 100 Bay Area cities, counties, and special districts are collaborating and setting up regional workshops to set mitigation priorities for the region, i.e. an update of the 2005 plan. By developing a disaster-resistant region, the goal is to reduce the potential loss of life, property damage, and environmental degradation from natural disasters while speeding economic recovery from disasters. The Holly Center had more empty chairs than visitors.

ABAG's executive board met in September to discuss regional priorities for mitigating natural-hazards impacts and set the priorities for ABAG itself. Union City's strategies are due September 30. ABAG will submit the plan to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in late October. Upon FEMA approval, Union City will adopt the plan within one year.

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