Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, October 26, 2000
Groups on campus practice for "The Big One"


More than 75 people on campus went into high gear as they responded to a simulated 6.9 magnitude "earthquake" that struck the Bay Area for 18 seconds at 8:10 a.m. yesterday.

The exercise, organized by Roni Wade, a health and safety specialist from Environmental Health and Safety, gave schools and departments a chance to practice how they would respond in case "The Big One" ever hits home.

"We are in an area of the country with a very high probability for earthquakes," said Larry Gibbs, associate vice provost for Environmental Health and Safety. "The senior administration, from the president down, takes this preparation for response to such an event very seriously."

Staff from Engineering and EH&S carry out a field exercise at Terman
photo: Ralph Durham

The university has reason to take disaster preparation seriously. The Loma Prieta earthquake, which struck 11 years ago and registered 6.9 on the Richter scale, caused no deaths on campus but damaged more than 200 university buildings and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage. According to Wade, there is about a 70 percent chance that a quake registering 7.0 or more will rock the Bay Area during the next 30 years.

During the exercise, participants responded to changing and sometimes inaccurate information that included reports of deaths, injuries and an overwhelmed emergency room at Stanford Hospital. The scenario also included jammed telephone lines; damaged and closed campus buildings; hazardous materials spills; a fire at the Texaco gas station on campus; cancelled classes and a need to find housing for homeless students and stranded staff and faculty. Also in the scenario were media reports of widespread devastation throughout the Bay Area.

The Faculty Club, designated the site of the university's Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in a real emergency, was the hub of operations during the drill. Six groups representing the areas of Policy, Logistics, Operations, Finance, Public Information and Intelligence worked together as the aftermath of the earthquake unfolded.

Chris Christofferson, manager of Facilities Operations who ran the Operations group, said he was pleased with this year's exercise. "There was better communication and the physical arrangement worked more efficiently," he said.

The drill also included participation from most of the university's 25 Satellite Operations Centers (SOCs), which are based in schools and administrative units and work directly with the EOC. Nine of the SOCs participated throughout the morning-long exercise, with the SOC from the School of Engineering simulating how it would respond in case of real building damage to Terman.

"What we were trying to do today was test the EOC communication," said Gibbs. "We want to be able to improve our internal communications, within the EOC and from the EOC to the campus and nearby communities, even as we focus on the development of a strategic plan of action following a disaster."

While a coordinated university-wide emergency plan is essential, Wade pointed out that individuals on campus must be prepared as well. "The most important thing is that everybody has a personal emergency plan," she says. "We want all staff and students to be safe. If you don't have a plan, we don't have a plan."

Information about campus hotline numbers activated during an emergency can be found in the university telephone directory. The main hotline number is 725-5555 and, in the event of an emergency, updates are listed online at . Wallet-sized cards with the information are available from Wade at 725-1409.