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Departments, employees urged to prepare for next quake
STANFORD -- How well is Stanford University prepared to deal with the next major earthquake to strike the region?
The good news, according to Police Chief Marvin Herrington, is that Stanford is probably better prepared than most other San Francisco Bay Area communities.
The bad news, he told a group of administrators at a Wednesday, April 10, meeting, is that being better prepared than its neighbors does not mean Stanford is necessarily well-prepared.
The university does have in place a comprehensive (and intentionally simple) emergency plan for dealing with the next shaker, but Herrington is concerned that not all academic and administrative departments and units have plans and have communicated those plans to their members.
Last 'big one' wasn't really that big
The Loma Prieta earthquake of Oct. 17, 1989, registered 7.1 (some scientists later calculated the magnitude to be 6.9) on the Richter scale. It felt major but, in geological terms, it was only a moderate quake. A really major quake, which is expected once every century or so in Northern California, would register about 8 (the San Francisco quake of 1906 was an 8.3).
The difference between 7 and 8 is that the latter quake will be 10 times more violent than the former in terms of energy released and resulting ground motion.
Herrington said in his presentation to the Public Affairs Council that in 1989, "we were very lucky." While the university sustained about $150 million in damage, there were no deaths and few injuries.
"Also, it was just after 5 p.m., so there were plenty of staff still on campus; it was a warm night, so students could sleep on the grass; and we didn't lose power or utilities to any major extent," Herrington said. Roads and most communication systems remained mostly open and usable, and, in many offices, administrators didn't even realize that the quake was serious enough to have warranted opening the emergency center.
Another bit of good fortune, Herrington said, was having Professor Haresh Shah on campus. The civil engineering professor, an expert on earthquake damage and structural stress, along with some colleagues, and with only three hours of daylight in which to work, managed to do quick inspections of 75 percent of the living units. They were replaced the following day by no less than 30 teams of inspectors.
Less luck probable next time
If a quake measuring 8 on the Richter scale were to hit, Herrington said, the Bay Area would be devastated.
"We would have to assume that most of the overpasses and bridges on [freeways] 101 and 280 would come down," the chief said. "Outside of about a five-mile radius, you wouldn't be able to get out, and if you're off campus, you won't be able to get back in."
While the Bay, Golden Gate, San Mateo and other water bridges are expected to remain standing, "all of the approaches will probably come down."
In most disaster situations, Stanford can rely on help from police, fire and paramedic departments from neighboring communities.
"If an airplane were to crash here, or something similarly major, we would have plenty of help," Herrington said. "But when the Big One hits, we're on our own."
It would be natural to assume that San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland would be the first recipients of outside aid, "since they'll probably need it a lot worse than Stanford or Palo Alto."
Concerns about medical center
A major complication to the Stanford scenario concerns the Medical Center.
"If it stays open, it's a plus," Herrington said. "But if the quake takes out the hospital, there's going to be thousands of injured people looking for help there and not getting it, plus there's the possible evacuation of 600 or so patients. I'm really worried about the Medical Center; we just have to pray that it stays open.
"It's literally the kind of worry that can keep you up at night, thinking about it."
One bonus for the university is that most of the 13,000 students live on campus, don't have families in the area or much personal property to look after, and can play vital roles in post-quake relief and rescue efforts.
"If it happens at a time when most staff are gone, those students are going to find themselves being made temporary directors of university departments," Herrington said. To some extent, that occurred in 1989 when regular staff and managers could not be located right away.
Provisions are in place; plans needed
After the Loma Prieta quake, the university buried a dozen survival packages in underground bunkers. Each contains a large quantity of food, water, blankets, first-aid kits and other provisions. There should be plenty to go around. Also, the emergency center is well stocked with communication equipment and the like.
But people need plans - plans for themselves, their loved ones, their departments.
What each student and employee should remember, Herrington said, is to "take care of your personal plan first. Then, and only then, move on to your department plan.
"And, if your department doesn't have a plan, I'd advise that it get one, and fast."
On the personal level, it helps to establish a common phone number outside the quake zone, a "clearinghouse" where family members and friends can check in. The friend or relative living outside the quake area can tell callers who has and has not been heard from.
During the quake, follow the time-honored practice of "duck and cover," Herrington said. People should get under a desk or in a doorway, and stay away from windows or objects that might fall, including roof tiles.
After the quake, "Stay where you are for a while - unless something happening in the building, like a fire, means you have to get out," he said. People immediately going outside may find themselves hit by falling tiles or other debris.
At student residences, resident fellows and resident assistants should organize their groups after the quake. Most halls now have a prominent red dot (about a foot in diameter) painted outside, on a sidewalk or in a parking lot, that is the designated meeting place, so everyone can be accounted for.
Departments should follow a similar pattern, Herrington said. (Detailed information on how to develop plans is available from the Department of Public Safety's Earthquake Information desk at 723-0569.)
"Find out who's safe, who's missing, tend to the injured, and designate one person who should go to the emergency center from each department."
Two vital groups in charge
At the emergency center, located in the Police Department building on Serra Street, the information coming in from various campus locations will be coordinated, so that emergency crews can go to the areas needing the most help. The information will also be gathered and regularly disseminated, internally through the student radio station, KZSU-FM, and externally via telephone calls and faxed news releases (from a portable, battery-operated computer) to local news media.
Two groups will be operating immediately and running the university from the center for as long as necessary: the emergency operations group and the planning-policy team. The operating team will be the administrators or temporary administrators of the various vital support units on campus. The planning and policy team will include the president, provost and other academic and administrative officers.
The first group will essentially run the university until the members are able to get back to their regular offices and conduct their regular business there. The latter group will face a rather daunting mission, Herrington said. They must develop plans and make decisions on what to do in the days, weeks, months and years following the quake.
'Every single thing they decide in the first week after the quake will have a serious impact on this university for the next 50 years," Herrington said. "Suppose there are three buildings on fire at one time - a library, an engineering building and an office building. I'm going to have to tell this group, 'I can only put out one fire, and two buildings are going to burn down. Which one do you want me to save?' "
The policy group may also have to deal with issues such as when, and possibly where, to resume classes.
If the university is closed for more than a week or two, "we've essentially lost that academic quarter," Herrington said. "They'll have to decide if the whole place has to close down completely for a long time.
"They'll have to begin negotiating with FEMA and other government agencies right away. They may have to arrange for classes to be taught at some facility or facilities miles away. They could have to find housing for thousands of displaced students. They'll be trying to get the word out to parents and other concerned people all over the world."
And, they won't have the usual luxury of time and consensus- building through committee meetings and task forces and public input.
"They'll have to decide it that minute, and they'll have to make the right decisions," Herrington said. "It's going to be an extremely tough job."
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