Earthquakes are scary!

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?
Hundreds.
V Smoothe: Over 1k, I think.
dto510: Yeah.
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.
Not!
V Smoothe: I am frightened of earthquakes!
The ground opens in a chasm and sucks you in!
dto510: MDR!
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.
dto510: Again…
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.
dto510: yes.
V Smoothe:The worst earthquake happens, more will die than in a bad hurricane.
dto510: “will”?
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.
Kinda selfish…
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.
dto510: Sigh.

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.

27 thoughts on “Earthquakes are scary!

  1. Becks

    Thanks for making me laugh. I’ve had that same conversation dozens of times, and I side with dto510 on this one – hurricanes are much scarier than earthquakes!

    I think it helps to have been through a big earthquake (the Northridge earthquake in 1994) – it was one of the scariest experiences of my life, but it all turned out ok in the end. And surprisingly few people died, even though many buildings collapsed.

    You’re right though – we should be more prepared.

  2. Joanna/OnTheGoJo

    Indeed, a good laugh! I thought I was the only one worried about such things. My pantry is always packed and I have a great escape plan including a special rope ladder to get me 3 stories down.

    I’ve survived the floods and riots in LA, along with the Northridge Quake while living in a house in Chatsworth that was red-tagged. I’ve survived a tornado – and done my fair share of chasing them with my ham radio storm-chasing state police (trooper) father while growing up in Oklahoma. I’ve also survived a good hurricane back in 1998 in Key West (not a favorite vacation memory). Haven’t been through a tsunami yet, but I’m off to Hawaii in November…

    I’d say the earthquake was the worst. Not just because of the initial impact, but because the aftershocks went on for almost a year after. The first few months were horrid because not only do you not get any warning, but you never know how bad it’s going to be. With the hurricane’s & tornados you can leave or take shelter in advance.

    I keep hearing from CORE that the City learned their lesson after the big Oakland Hills fire, and that they now have plans in place and they even participate in the county drill every April. Why so skeptical, V? Okay, so yeah, it’s the City of Oakland, so I can see the skepticism.

    That’s why I’m self prepared. I keep extra shoes in my desk at work. I keep flashlights – and check the batteries regularly – in the car, in all the drawers at work and in every room at home. I have a big 5 Gallon jug of water and I know how to turn off the gas in my building. I know that if we do have a quake that I’ll fill up the bathtub and sinks with the good water in the pipes because I know to expect that it will take a minimum of 3 days to get fresh water. I have quite the emergency kit. Some think I’m paranoid… but it served me well with the Northridge Quake and I fed our block for a few days while we camped under the stars waiting for the power to come back on. Or in my case, waited to move to a place that wasn’t 3 levels turned into 1. ;)

    It’s good to have the conversation and to see whether you’re really prepared! Also good to go check the fire detector batteries and make sure you have a plan for your pets if you have them.

    Cheers,
    Joanna

  3. Surfways

    The earthquake wasn’t the sole reason why SF was destroyed in 1906, the fire did major damage. Records have claimed that fire officials made the situation worse by mishandling “slash and burn” tactics with dynamites. There is a lot more to the mishandling but I digress…

    Those who wear eye contact lenses, be sure to have glasses handy. Doctors have said that the #1 injury after quakes is broken glass embedded in feet. I keep heavy duty boots handy for this reason. I keep jugs of water in my house and detached garage, just in case one of them collapses.

  4. Rebecca Kaplan

    Emergency preparedness is definitely a vital area. Whether a city is hit by an earthquake, a major fire, or a hurricane or flood, the greatest threat to human health is likely to be the aftermath — in which lack of safe drinking water and other vital supplies, in these types of situations, can cause more deaths than those caused by people being hurt by falling buildings or directly hit by storm waters.

    One of the things that a “community organizer” perspective can help contribute, and that an at-large council person can do (and I will do, if elected), is improve home preparedness, and neighborhood/community preparedness to avoid this kind of “aftermath” problem. This means expanded public outreach and education, and working through neighborhood groups and other community-based organizations, to significantly increase the ratio of households prepared with emergency water, food, flashlights, first aid supplies, and to also organize central locations in every neighborhood which are prepared for a community response with similar supplies to be able to help their immediate surrounding area. (E.g. churches, schools, and more, as medium-sized neighborhood based emergency supply/assistance sites — to try to avoid the need to transport massive numbers of residents to an overwhelmed central location for assistance in an emergency).

    Some of this is already being done, and CORE is a very helpful program. And, by increasing the ratio of prepared households, and expanding neighborhood-based emergency preparedness, we will reduce the odds of a devastating situation in Oakland.

  5. Andrew

    The next big quake on the Hayward fault will most likely be the most expensive disaster ever to strike the United States.

    Next month will be the 140th anniversary of the 1868 Hayward earthquake, California’s original “Great San Francisco Earthquake.” As it happens, trenching studies of the Hayward fault show that for the last 1500 years or so, big quakes of magnitude 6.5 and larger have happened, on average, every 140 years. So the 140th anniversary will be marked by a science conference. See http://1868alliance.org/ for the schedule and other related events. In fact just this Thursday there will a public lecture in Menlo Park at the USGS, “Ready for the Next Big Bay Area Earthquake?”

    Rebecca Kaplan’s post is helpful. There is work to be done at every level from your household to your block to the whole state. One level that needs more attention is the workplace level. The odds are 1 in 3 that the quake will happen when you’re at work–who is your disaster official? The city should be taking advantage of the expertise available from the US Geological Survey (Menlo Park), UC Berkeley, FEMA (the region 9 offices are in Oakland) and the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI, headquartered in Oakland). Those people are all just waiting for the city to call.

    For my part, I try to help Oaklanders get better acquainted with the fault on my Oakland Geology blog. Just knowing where it is and when you encounter it on the freeway helps keep you aware, and awareness is the foundation of preparedness.

    I should probably go through the conversation in this post and enumerate the correct and incorrect points.

  6. V Smoothe Post author

    I’m sure it’s partly a factor of familiarity. I grew up in hurricane country, so they don’t seem that bad for me. Earthquakes on the other hand…terrifying. Even the little ones that we have sometimes around here freak me out.

    Joanna –

    Why so skeptical? Well, because everyone tells me to be. In the League of Women Voters Candidate Forums during the primary, everyone who was asked if Oakland was adequately prepared for the next disaster answered with an unequivocal no. The best the current Councilmembers could say was that we’re better off than we were before, but still have a long way to go. And conversations with police and firefighters and a number of other folks involved with disaster preparedness in various forms suggest that my concerns are well founded.

    Rebecca –

    Improving community preparedness is definitely something the City should be doing more of, and of particular concern to me is efforts being made to prepare Limited English Proficieny (LEP) residents, who constitute a sizeable portion of our city. These groups are often the least likely to be engaged with civic affairs and often live in the most distressed and at-risk housing. Substantial and dedicated outreach efforts need to be made to these communities.

  7. fakchek

    Interesting. And mildly amusing.
    I think it’s important to remind you of major earthquake consequences elsewhere in the world which give a better indication of possible impacts here rather than simply relating to local events in 1989 & 1906. A sampling: Sichuan, 2008, 90,000 killed; Indonesia, 2004, 230,000 killed; Iran, 2003, 31,000 killed; India, 2001, 20,000 killed; Kobe, 1995, 5,100 killed.
    More info:
    http://earthquake.usgs.gov/eqcenter/eqarchives/year/byyear.php

  8. Andrew

    V Smoothe: Catastrophic earthquakes do more damage [than hurricanes].

    True in several ways. A big quake will ruin the Port, the airport and the Nimitz for months through seismic liquefaction. A hurricane here would just flood them for a day or so. The quake will catch everyone by surprise and do all its damage simultaneously. A hurricane would not. The quake will break gas and electric lines as well as the water mains needed to put out the fires. Every big earthquake is a “great earthquake and fire.”

    dto510: No earthquake since 1906 has destroyed an entire city.

    Leaving aside Alaska and the rest of the world, and leaving aside the fact that the 1906 quake didn’t destroy all of San Francisco, the continental US hasn’t had a large quake at all since 1906 (large being magnitude 7 and up). Even the relatively minor 1989 quake did a number on Santa Cruz.

    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. Not!

    The modeling studies done for the new bridge design are better than anything ever used before. Modeling has been tested for decades. You’ll notice that buildings keep getting better at withstanding shaking.

    V Smoothe: “Liquefaction” is pretty damn scary.
    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.

    Half the city will either turn to mush or slide off the hillside (see East Oakland and West Oakland). I wish I could vouch for our bedrock, but after 12 million years of earthquakes it’s pretty sloppy in most places. Very little of it actually crops out.

    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.

    Not at all. We’ve dug hundreds of trenches across the Hayward fault and we know how extensive the prehistoric (that is, pre-1776) quakes were. It is straightforward to calculate their magnitudes from that information, and we know that 1868-size quakes are around magnitude 7. Locally they will be ten times worse than the distant quake of 1989. The 1989 quake was not a big earthquake.

    V Smoothe:The worst earthquake happens, more will die than in a bad hurricane.
    dto510: “will”?

    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!

    I’d call this a wash. Our building standards and workmanship are better than the third world. Deaths will probably be in the mid three figures. The real cost of the quake will be in property losses, disruption of business and disease.

    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.

    I know you’re putting words in dto’s mouth. We have a good idea of the 1868 quake because the local newspapers reported it extensively and many photographs were taken. Estimating quakes from documentary evidence is an advanced art.

    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.

    DO NOT ENCOURAGE SUCH PEOPLE. SERIOUSLY.

    dto510: 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.

    Scary is a very individual thing. I would rather go through a major earthquake than clutch the ground screaming as a tornado bears down upon me. I would rather weather a quake than spend endless hours in a rattling house while the wind slowly mismantles it all night.

    V Smoothe: 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.
    dto510: Sigh.

    You have to do what you can, try to do better, and let it go. That’s the Bay area native’s viewpoint, it’s my viewpoint, and it’s a fundamental element of the California mindset. Inshallah!

    At Oakland Geology, I don’t try to scare people, just inform them. Information that wakes you up in the night occasionally is good motivation. Being scared isn’t.

  9. dto510

    Andrew, V did not put any words in mouth, the conversation is pretty much exactly copied from our IM. Since scientists have never successfully predicted an earthquake, I don’t see how you can so confidently assert that various things “will” happen, down to a casualty prediction that rivals Hurricane Katrina’s!

    We can all agree to keep water around and that there should be emergency communications plans that can reach all citizens. Endlessly speculating about damage has done nothing to make Oakland safer. But pictures of the Hayward fault are neat.

    Maybe the city should make a pamphlet with basic advice for new residents, such as keeping water and not hanging anything heavy above your bed. It would be more helpful than the PANDEMIC FLU! pamphlets at KTOP.

  10. Lowell

    Hi:

    Just thought I would weigh in here on resources in Oakland in the event of an earthquake:

    Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disasters
    http://www.FirstVictims.org
    510-451-3140

    and

    Office of Emergency Services, Oakland Fire Dept.
    510-238-7044

    Both agencies help organize for disaster preparedness.

  11. gem s

    “The science of earthquakes is terrible and driven by fearmongering.”

    Um, the science of plate tectonics is pretty extensively studied and modeled. The evidence is all around us. We know how things have shifted in the past, so good predictions can be made from this evidence. The plates move, they get stuck, pressure builds up, there’s an earthquake. How is that terrible science?

  12. Kent

    I’ve had similar thoughts on local disaster preparedness as V. I did a google search on Japan and earthquake preparedness. Here’s what I found:

    from http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/02/06/asia_letter/main2441422.shtml

    “The Japanese are constantly told they must drill and be prepared for what’s going to happen. They know it’s going to happen, just not when or where…. if you live in Japan, you learn how to evacuate in drills that are mandatory. Department stores carry earthquake preparedness kits, making sure you have everything from flashlights to food stored in your house.

    And the system is geared for disaster, like the bullet trains that automatically stop so tracks can be checked. Tsunami warnings are almost instant, and most of the time, people cram into cars and make their way to higher ground. Every day at 5:00pm in Tokyo, they test a city-wide loudspeaker system. The test is just music, but in a real emergency, the loudspeakers could tell people where to go, and what areas to avoid.”

    I wonder if Oakland ever wants to try something like that? We could have a big gathering at Ogawa plaza. It would be a cool way to bring together the community- but would anyone show up?

  13. annoyed

    Maybe a visit to the ABAG website to find out more about earthquakes is in order.

    http://quake.abag.ca.gov/

    Or maybe they don’t know anyting either. I know I’m not taking the word of someone online. When the Hayward fault ruptures, it is expected to destroy gas lines, sewer lines, and water lines, not to mention what it will do to local streets and roads, freeways, transit rights of way, and commericial and residential structures. The epicenter of the 1989 quake was in the Santa Cruz Mountains and the earth certainly did open up there and was duly reported by the local news stations. The earth opened up in Alaska. Take a look at the newsreel footage of Anchorage from 1964 and what happend to streets and sidewalks. Don’t forget about the tsunamis. Anchorage also experienced a tsunami.

    It’s easy to shrug it off because a major quake only happens every 100+ years. Oakland is on rock and on silt. The flatlands is little better than sand. Liquifaction is not an EBX fairy talle. How do you figure a significant quake in Santa Cruz did so much damaage in Oakalnd? My neighbors lost chimneys and the last of the damaged buildings in downtown Oakland have been finally rebuilt or retrofited in the last few years. The damge in Oakland was unfortunately overshawdowd by the dramatic pictures of the SF Marina. It’s instructive that the Nimitz fell in Oakland but its sister structure along the embarcadero in SF did not collapse.

    The prediction for the Hayward falut is grim because it travels through densely populated areas. The quake is expected to be around 8.0, which is what the 1862 is estimated to have been. That’s bigger than Northridge and Loma Prieta.

  14. Andrew

    DTO — OK, you really did say that.

    You are confusing earthquake predictions with earthquake forecasts and earthquake models. A prediction is “a shock of size X will happen on [date].” Nobody can do that and it has never been done (the 1975 Haicheng incident is no longer considered a success). A forecast is “a shock of size X has Y percent odds of happening in the next Z years.” That is the state of the art; the latest forecast for the Bay area is about a 70 percent chance of a magnitude 6.5 event in the next 30 years.

    Earthquake models are not conjecture. We have a bunch of evidence about the 1868 earthquake–we’ve mapped its rupture, recorded its effects all over the state, and we know what kinds of damage was done to well-characterized types of buildings. We know what kind of seismic events are possible and likely on the fault, and we can model the kinds of forces that modern buildings will be subjected to during those events. This is all straightforward engineering stuff, based on data and free of fearmongering. The authorities are planning on about 200,000 people homeless in the East Bay. Do a google search for “hayward fault earthquake scenario” and take your pick. Anyone who is waving around numbers (deaths or dollars) bigger than those is fearmongering. But the scenario numbers are sobering.

    Please don’t try to deny earthquake science.

    There is one sense in which “The science of earthquakes is terrible and driven by fearmongering.” Since the late 1800s, earthquake research has been funded only in the years immediately after large earthquakes. That is not a good recipe for science, any more than a state budget based on fluctuating income sources is a good recipe for stability. Scientists are constitutionally ill-equipped for politicking, unlike the forces opposed to earthquake awareness. Who are those? Your friendly realtors, chambers of commerce, developers, and people just plain reluctant to take a long-term perspective. It isn’t earthquake scientists who throw a scare into people to counteract those opponents–it’s earthquakes themselves. The Field Act followed less than a month after the Long Beach earthquake of 1933, for example. Major research efforts were funded after Sylmar in 1971, Loma Prieta in 1989 and Northridge in 1994. It’s a boom-and-bust cycle, and that’s just the way things are.

    “annoyed,” it was 1868 and the maximum fault possible on the Hayward is about 7, 7.5. That sounds like only a little difference but the scale is logarithmic, meaning it’s about 10 times smaller than an 8.

  15. Colin

    Since scientists have never successfully predicted an earthquake, I don’t see how you can so confidently assert that various things “will” happen, down to a casualty prediction that rivals Hurricane Katrina’s!

    This same logic would suggest that nobody should have prepared for Hurricane Katrina. Since what destroyed the city was in fact levy failure, this is a particularly bad argument to make. Since no hurricane had ever destroyed New Orleans, why bother making the levies effective against a 10,000-year storm? There are a lot of people who died because reasonable preparations weren’t taken for a likely event.

    A massive earthquake here is a not baseless speculation. There will be one, probably within our lifetimes, and it will be catastrophic. I don’t know why you find that so hard to acknowledge.

    But you’re right – speculating about it won’t have an impact one way or another, and neither will panicking over an event that hasn’t happened. Being prepared will, and to that end we need to address some infrastructure issues over here.

  16. Mike Spencer

    I dare say the City had better leadership both during Loma Prieta and the Oakland Hills fire.

    How scary would a “natural” disaster be with Dellums or other “leaders” nowhere to be found? I could see Ignacio working round the clock but the others? No way…..

  17. Kevin Cook

    This is not the first time Hollywood, aka dto510, has felt unashamed to make baseless claims about science of which his knowledge barely extends beyond what he reads in the popular press. Hearing actual scientists tell him he’s wrong doesn’t daunt him either, regardless of how much evidence you all pile up. While I find it hilarious, the geologists and engineers in which I work have been reduced to stuttering exasperation by his refusal to back down in the face of advanced degrees and actual experience. Be forewarned and enjoy the hilarity.

  18. V Smoothe Post author

    People are welcome to debate the realities of earthquake dangers and the state of Oakland’s disaster preparedness, but please, give dto510 a break. I thought it was clear from the post that this was a fairly lighthearted conversation. The argument was about what’s scary, not what’s real, and I wouldn’t have posted the discussion if I didn’t honestly think I was the one who came off looking worse and more irrational.

  19. Max Allstadt

    Kent, I lived in Japan for 8 years and went to elementary and high school there. Even ex-pat schools have aggressive earthquake preparedness drills. It’s just routine.

    Part of this is because the Japanese on a cultural level have an almost para-military sense of unity. But there’s another interesting difference between the SFbay and the Kanto Plain: In Tokyo, the earthquakes are more frequent, and the little ones are stronger. I remember feeling a significant tremmors about once a semester when I was in school there. I’ve been in Oakland for 5 years and it’s nowhere near as frequent.

    Their preparedness is truly impressive though. So are their public-private partnerships. My dad was running Mobil Oil Japan during the Kobe quake in ’95, and it was just a given that he retasked refinery based helicopters to help out civil defense teams. I’ll bet that if we had a quake like Kobe’s on the Hayward fault, our lack of organization would kill twice as many people in a metroplex half the size of Kobe-Osaka.

  20. Allan

    The City of Oakland paid big bucks for a disaster plan a few years ago. Try to find it. I tried. First I looked on line. Then I contacted my Councilperson’s office. I was told – It’s on line. Where? Oh well maybe not. Then with some help from Councilperson, I got a call from the person in charge. I could take a look at the mystery document. It was at our disaster center. I showed up at the appointed time – got a run around – finally saw the one copy – for about 15 minutes. Never could get another reply.

  21. ConcernedOakFF

    Let me tell you as an Oakland Firefighter that we are in no way prepared for any major disaster, let alone a earthquake. For example, since we DO NOT have a Fireboat, during a major earthquake there is absolutely no way to supply water to the city if the water mains rupture, which in all likelihood WILL happen in an earthquake of any magnitude.

    The only thing that saved San Francisco’s Marina District and other areas was the water from their Fireboat. You can see independent proof of this in the History Channel look at what would happen if a 1906 earthquake happened here now.

    The reality is..the public at large does not really want to hear this..but there really is no way for a local government to TRULY prepare for a major disaster.

    What we do have going for us are dedicated Firefighters that will do their best when the “big one” happens.

    We need the Fireboat back, staffed and ready to protect all of us. We need a city Government that supports the efforts of the Fire Department to prepare itself for these disasters.

    What people also may not realize, is that the Police Department gets the lions share of the funds. The FD gets the scraps….

    If anyone has questions they can reach me at concernedoakff@hotmail.com

  22. Andrew

    It’s true . . . a Navy fireboat came down from Mare Island in 1906 and its lieutenant led his crew for 70 hours straight to save the wharves. The waterfront was the only way to reach the city and do business. Between the wharves and the gold in the Mint, San Francisco was well equipped for its rapid recovery.

    An Oakland fireboat would be a very good thing.

    I was up in the hills this morning, on Woodrow Drive to be exact, and a fire truck had to labor up there to tend to a residential alarm. It was tinder-dry, and dirt mixed with eucalyptus leaves was trickling onto the road. The hills give me the creeps; if they’re dry they’re ready to burn and if they’re wet they’re ready to slop down in mudslides. Pick your tragedy, because a major earthquake would set off both fires and slides up there and the roads would be blocked.

  23. Moschops

    It is scarey that so few people seem to realize the 1989 quake so a long way away from the Bay Area and yet still managed to do so much damage. There’s a real complacency in my neighborhood where 880 collapsed of “well we survived the ’89 quake and that was 6.9 so we’ll be fine” but ask those people to point to Loma Prieta on the map and few have any idea that it is something like 60 miles away. Imagine if that quake was right here in Oakland – ask people from Santa Cruz about Loma Prieta quake and you’ll get an all together different story. Never mind if it was a > 7.0 magnitude quake which is highly probably.

    Our building was given a retrofit quote and basically the seismic engineers said all they could do was “provide life saving at 6.0 magnitude or below” so the building may be written off but hopefully people walk away. Having people walk away with their lives is important of course – when it comes down to it that’s what is most importnat to me. But a 6.9 quake is almost 10 times as powerful as 6.0 and a 6.9 quake centered right here in Oakland is an altogether different matter from 6.9 at over 60 miles away. Really I don’t want to be here for a 6.9 or even 6.0 on one of our local fault lines – it is going to be a huge mess and hundreds if not thousands of people will die for sure.

    I just attended a townhall discussing city sponsured deployment of broadband wireless within Oakland – I was the only one to suggest it might be a benefit to provide Oakland residents with information during or after such an emergency. This would be a real opportunity to deploy a fault tolerant (no pun intended) source of information – I hope someone can follow through with that!

  24. ConcernedOakFF

    San Francisco was saved in 1989 by the Phoenix, the SFFD Fireboat. Chief Hayes-White speaks in depth in the History Channel special about why, even though it is expensive and seldom used, they MUST have a fully staffed fireboat in San Francisco.

    In 1989 the SFFD Boat pumped for almost 2 days without stop, as it took the place of the entire water grid, which was severed due to the liquefaction of the Marina District.

    CORE is a good thing. However, it is made up of civilians with about 25-30 hours of training, many of which will not be able to physically help their neighbors.

    You MUST keep 3 days worth of food and water. That is the best disaster planning you can do.

    We must get the funding, and more importantly, the SUPPORT of the city in order to be at the HIGHEST level of preparation. Not just for earthquakes, but for every situation, from day to day operations, to Hazardous Materials spills, to hill fires to terrorist attacks.

  25. Nancy Rieser

    Fireboats were critical to fiire fighters during the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack. When those massive buildings collapsed, so did the firefighting water delivery system underneath and around the destroyed buildings.

    When the City closed down the fireboat house at the port, the fireflighters put up a good fight but City Council couldn’t have cared less. It still doesn’t.

    It’s sheer lunacy that Oakland used 2 million bucks from the DD bond measure to add more fire hydrants around Fairyland because Fairyland built a puppet theater and an outdoor seating area udneath a shade trellis, both just a stone’s throw from the largest fire hydrant in Oakland — Lake Merritt.

    When the big one hits, you bet there will be fires. The water delivery infrastructure will be dangerously compromised. Afterwards, the folks at City Hall will beat their chests, post mortem, bemoaning the fact that the City didn’t have a fireboat, alas.

    Ah, but it will have the best protected puppet theater this side of the Mississippi.