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Are You Prepared for the Next Earthquake?
Join Noe Valley's Rescue Team and You Will Be
By Dodie Hamblen
Gotten a little rusty on your earthquake skills? Can't find that rechargeable flashlight you bought right after Loma Prieta? Not sure whether to climb under your desk or run out into the street when the house starts shaking?
To raise your quake consciousness, you might want to attend the citywide disaster drill on April 18, in honor of Earthquake Preparedness Month and the 92nd anni-versary of the 1906 Earthquake and Fire.
But if you really want to feel more confidant about what to do the next time the earth moves -- and be a hero to everyone on your block -- you should sign up for Noe Valley's Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT), run by the San Francisco Fire Department. The Noe Valley team will hold a training for new members at James Lick School in May.
The NERT program was founded after the Loma Prieta Earthquakee, a 15-second shake that took the lives of 67 people on Oct. 17, 1989. Since then, the program has trained more than 6,000 residents throughout the city in disaster and emergency response techniques.
NERT volunteers take part in six weekly three-hour training sessions, taught at no charge by SFFD firefighters. The course teaches people how to prepare their homes and families for a quake, as well as the latest survival and search-and-rescue techniques. Participants learn how to give emergency medical aid and extinguish fires; how, when, and where to shut off gas and water valves; and how to classify damaged buildings following a quake. They also develop a plan for contacting their neighbors and locating food, water, and first-aid supplies.
To sharpen their skills, each year NERT graduates attend citywide and neighborhood disaster drills.
Local resident Bill Kuhns, coordinator of the Noe Valley team, says NERT is "alive and well" in our neighborhood. In addition to Loma Prieta, "the Kobe [Japan] and Northridge [California] quakes activated people's interest in NERT," he says. About 150 Noe Valley-ans have been trained in the program since its inception.
Still, interest has waned in recent years. And only about a dozen NERT members attended the drill held at James Lick in October. "I'm afraid we're going to have to refresh a lot of our training on the job," says Kuhns.
Kuhns points out that the original idea was for each block in Noe Valley to have its own NERT-trained captain. This person would be aware of any elderly or disabled people on his or her street who might need special assistance after a quake. The block captain would also be charged with organizing the block and passing on earthquake preparedness tips. In the event of a catastrophic quake, all NERT members would make sure their block was safe and then meet at James Lick School, Noe Valley's designated disaster center.
But even though people have continued to take the NERT training -- offered once a year in Noe Valley -- Kuhns says many blocks are without a watchdog.
"Because of our hillside location, Noe Valley is one of the safest locations in the city," notes Kuhns. "There are some creek beds that are potentially hazardous. But there were no complete structural failures here in Loma Prieta." Still, he says, Noe Valley suffered some minor damage and should be prepared "for the worst-case scenario." He urges residents to give the NERT training a try.
Sue Bowie, who organized and was among the first Noe Valleyans to receive training in 1991, agrees with Kuhns that the program "is definitely worthwhile. It creates more of an awareness of what you need to do after an earthquake," she says. And those skills come in handy in any disaster or crisis.
Asked if she feels people in Noe Valley are prepared for a major quake, Bowie says, "I think some people are partially prepared. They have some of their earthquake supplies. But I don't think people are really prepared. A major factor is denial. People just don't want to think about it. It would be really great if everybody in the city took the training. A lot of people who move here from other parts of the country are very concerned about earthquakes." Taking a class in earthquake preparedness could help ease their minds.
Despite the fact that people have become complacent, Lucien Canton, director of the Mayor's Office of Emergency Services, thinks "San Francisco is in a much better position to handle a disaster than it was before the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989." Since that 7.1 jolt, the city's disaster plan has been rewritten, a central command center has been established, and many neighborhood emergency response teams have been set in motion.
But Canton wants to dispel the myth that San Francisco's earthquake shelters can take care of everyone immediately after an earthquake. Like Kuhns and Bowie, he stresses personal responsibility.
"You need to be prepared to take care of yourself for the first 72 hours after a major earthquake," Canton says. The city expects that it could take up to three days for relief agencies outside the Bay Area to come to our aid.
Canton has taken the NERT training himself and feels that everyone can benefit from it. "It's a great program -- one of the best ways people can train for an earthquake."
Greg Owyang, who heads up the NERT program for the Fire Department, acknowledges that the time commitment required for NERT training often discourages people from taking the training. If you want a quick and easy way to prepare for an earthquake, he says, "Look in your phone book. The customer guide section of the white pages [page B6] has a good review of earthquake basics."
One of the things the phone book tells us is how to behave during a quake: "If you are indoors, duck or drop down to the floor. Take cover under a sturdy desk, table, or other furniture. Hold on to it and be prepared to move with it.... Stay clear of windows, fireplaces, and heavy furniture or appliances. Don't rush outside" until the building has stopped shaking.
Owyang adds that the Red Cross offers a two-hour earthquake preparedness course several times a year.
But if you want to zero in on your own neighborhood, the next Noe Valley NERT training course begins Thursday, May 21, at 6:30 p.m. at James Lick Middle School, 1220 Noe St. The annual citywide disaster drill will be held at Marina Middle School on the corner of Fillmore and Bay at 9 a.m. Saturday, April 18. Those interested should contact Bill Kuhns at 826-2304 or Greg Owyang at 558-3456.
Earthquake Day at the Randall Museum
People of all ages who want to learn about the seismology of San Francisco, as well as the history of the Great Quake and Fire of 1906, should check out the new exhibit, "Living with the Restless Earth," opening this month at the Randall Museum in Corona Heights.
The display will feature a full-scale replica of a 1906 earthquake refugee shack, complete with period furniture and artifacts. Museum-goers can try out a new "Make-A-Quake" machine, or view a state-of-the-art seismograph as it continuously records the tiniest of tremors.
The Randall Museum will kick off the new exhibit with an afternoon of special activities on Saturday, April 18, the 92nd anniversary of the '06 disaster. Museum science curator John Dillon says "Earthquake Day" will be a "transgenerational event" with something for everyone. A living history production will dramatize the experiences of the 1906 earthquake survivors. A local historian will show slides of the quake's aftermath. And a retired member of the Carpenters Union will demonstrate how people built the earthquake shacks, some of which still exist in neighborhoods around the city. Seismologists from U.C. Berkeley will also be on hand to discuss our cracks and faults and the likelihood of future shakes.
Children can enter a barrel hoop race, join a 20-minute guided hike to a nearby earthquake fault, try on period clothes, or make water filters like those used to clean water after the '06 quake.
Dillon says people living in San Francisco need to recognize the potential for a catastrophic quake and to celebrate the resilience of the 1906 earth-
quake survivors. "It was a major event," says Dillon. "But most people managed to rebuild the city and their lives."
"Earthquake Day" starts at noon and runs till 3 p.m. For further information, call John Dillon at 554-9602.
The Randall Museum is located at 199 Museum Way (take Castro to 14th, turn left on 14th and left on Roosevelt Way, then follow the signs). Regular museum hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.