Wow! A girl leaves town for a few days and this place goes crazy with comments. In the interest of trying to get caught up with responding to all those, I’m going to keep things short today.
So I something I found myself thinking about last week, for whatever reason, was if I could name one thing that I would like to see the City make their top priority this year, what would it be? I actually surprised myself with my answer, because after puzzling over the question for a few days, I decided that more than charter reform, or records reform, or zoning, or development, or a zero-base budgeting process, or police department reform, I really, really, really want to see the City get serious about disaster preparedness.
I started thinking about this the weekend before last, in the wake of Hurricane Ike, when I spent the better part of my days totally pointlessly trying to call my family, who live in Houston, to make sure they were okay. Turns out they are, but it took me days to find that out, since, duh – no phones. Although my poor sister (and like a million other people, I guess) still doesn’t have power. Anyway, every time I picked up the phone, I found my mind drifting to an argument I’ve been having with dto510 every couple of months for about 10 years now, that goes basically like this:
V Smoothe: I hate earthquakes!
dto510: It’s hard to feel minor earthquakes when you’re outside doing stuff.
Yeah, they’re scary!
Better than hurricanes though!
V Smoothe: You know when a hurricane is coming.
dto510: Yeah, and they come more often.
And do more damage.
V Smoothe: Catastrophic earthquakes do more damage.
dto510: Do they?
V Smoothe: No hurricane that I’m aware of has collapsed a freeway.
dto510: No earthquake since 1906 has destroyed an entire city.
V Smoothe: That’s a good argument. No earthquake has destroyed an entire city, expect the one that did.
Also, that’s not even true.
dto510: What, 50 people died in 1989? How many people died in New Orleans?
V Smoothe: Over 1k, I think.
Hurricanes are worse.
V Smoothe: But you know when they’re coming!
dto510: A lot of good that did!
V Smoothe: I cannot prepare to not be on the bridge during an earthquake.
dto510: Well, that’s why we’re getting a new bridge.
V Smoothe: Some people say the new bridge is more likely to collapse.
The technology is untested.
dto510: Well, that’s not true.
What technology is untested?
V Smoothe: I don’t know.
The technology of the bridge.
I read about it in the EBX.
dto510: That’s a good source of fact.
V Smoothe: I am frightened of earthquakes!
The ground opens in a chasm and sucks you in!
You’ve been watching too many movies.
V Smoothe: “Liquefaction” is pretty damn scary.
dto510: So is liquid!
I mean, seriously, hurricanes are so much worse.
V Smoothe: I’m sorry, the ground below me turning to mush is a lot worse that a glorified thunderstorm and a few days of flooding.
That’s a no-brainer!
dto510: We’re not even on the ground here in Oakland, half the city is solid rock and the other half is built on packed earth.
V Smoothe: No, I read about the liquefaction in the EBX.
V Smoothe: All of the DTO is going to go away.
dto510: Oh, right, that article comparing us to Kobe.
V Smoothe: ——— says so too!
dto510: ———’s entire business is built around scaring people with that!
Anyway, we already had a big earthquake, the DTO already collapsed, it’s over.
V Smoothe: It was not a big earthquake.
dto510: Yes it was!
V Smoothe: No, I read that it was minor compared to what we should expect soon.
dto510: That’s all theoretical.
V Smoothe: The worst earthquake is SO MUCH WORSE than the worst hurricane.
dto510: Except empirically.
V Smoothe: No.
V Smoothe:The worst earthquake happens, more will die than in a bad hurricane.
V Smoothe: The worst earthquake has not happened yet.
We don’t know how many will be killed by it.
dto510: Well, see now you’re just in the realm of fantasy and you can’t argue with that.
Fantasy and conjecture with zero evidence.
V Smoothe: 70k people died in that Chinese earthquake!
dto510: Because they packed people into concrete mid-rises!
We don’t do that.
V Smoothe: We have soft story apartment buildings.
We don’t even know how many!
dto510: More people die in tropical storms in Bangladesh.
All that conjecture is based on an earthquake in Hayward in the 1880s that we can only guess about since there were no instruments measuring it.
The science of earthquakes is terrible and driven by fearmongering.
V Smoothe: There is a guy on one of the listservs who says he can sense when an earthquake is coming.
Like an animal.
dto510: You should subscribe to his Twitter feed.
V Smoothe: He offered to e-mail people when the big one is coming.
dto510: How thoughtful.
It’s easy to remember after the fact that you thought there’d be an earthquake.
Scientists have never successfully predicted an earthquake.
V Smoothe: EXACTLY!
That’s WHY they’re so scary!
You don’t know when they’re coming!
You can’t protect yourself!
dto510: Yes, that is why people think they’re scarier than hurricanes, despite all evidence to the contrary.
But what are you going to do anyway?
V Smoothe: Go visit my parents!
dto510:Even if they could detect earthquakes it would probably be like an hour warning tops.
V Smoothe: Okay. NOT be on the Bridge. Or BART. Or in a soft story building.
Fill up my bathtub with water.
dto510: Oh yeah, you’re supposed to do that right after a quake.
V Smoothe: That’s what I heard.
dto510: You get all the water that’s left in the system before the pressure collapses.
Just keep some water around!
dto510: Also, —– are well-stocked.
And on bedrock.
V Smoothe: Good for them.
dto510: You can go there.
V Smoothe: I don’t have a key. Hopefully they’ll be home and not on BART in the tunnel when it happens.
You are not taking the threat of the earthquake very seriously.
dto510:I grew up here, at some point you have to let it go.
V Smoothe: Hmm.
dto510: You can’t predict it, so you can’t be scared of it.
V Smoothe: I would think that if you’d been reading Oakland Geology so much as you say, you would be more frightened.
dto510: Why would I be frightened?
I’m more likely to be killed by a car outside my apartment than an earthquake.
This is another example of how people are irrational about risk.
Earthquakes, airplanes – not risky.
V Smoothe: Fine, I’m irrational.
Earthquakes are still scarier than hurricanes.
Anyway, the City’s state of preparedness is such that pretty much everyone you talk to will agree that we aren’t even close to ready, but nobody seems interested in actually doing anything about it. Are there like, municipal disaster preparedness consultants? There must be, I guess, there’s consultants for everything. We should hire one to give us a thorough assessment of our state of readiness and a strategic plan for fixing the holes. I realize that it’s daunting and expensive and really scary and something people would rather not think about, but ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away.
Speaking of emergency preparedness, what ever happened to that Bay Area Interoperable Communications Initiative that Dellums and Newsom were all excited about last year? Is that on track? Hmm, I guess I should find out. When I get an answer, I’ll post it in the comments.