Noe Valley Voice October 2004

Earthquakes Are Coming, Ready or Not

By Liz Highleyman

All the experts tell us the same thing: it's not a question of if the Big One will occur, but when. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there's more than a 60 percent chance that a major earthquake will hit the Bay Area within the next 30 years. As San Francisco commemorates the 15th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake this month, there's no better time to think about emergency preparedness for yourself, your family, and your neighbors.

On Oct. 17, 1989, Noe Valley survived the 7.1 magnitude Loma Prieta quake with no major injuries and little damage. According to the November 1989 Noe Valley Voice, residents lost power, some brick chimneys and facades were damaged, and several storefront windows were shattered--but on the whole, the neighborhood made it through relatively unscathed. Such was not the case in the Marina, where several buildings collapsed and residents resorted to hauling hoses from the fireboat Phoenix after fire hydrants lost water pressure.

Many Noe Valleyans believe that--unlike the Marina, which is built on landfill--our hilly, rocky neighborhood is safe from major damage. But a recent report on San Francisco's earthquake risk, prepared for the city's Department of Building Inspection by the Applied Technology Council of Redwood, Calif., casts doubt on such optimism.

According to the report, Noe Valley--along with the Castro, Glen Park, and the Mission--is vulnerable to heavy damage and permanent loss of homes. A magnitude 7.2 earthquake on the San Andreas Fault, located near Lake Merced, could damage 20 percent of the homes in these neighborhoods, with economic losses of $1.2 billion.

In making their assessment, the engineers considered several factors besides soil composition, including the age and design of buildings. A major risk factor in Noe Valley is the number of homes with "soft stories"--those built above large open spaces, such as garages, which are prone to collapse. Luckily, the risk of earthquake damage can be reduced through seismic-strengthening measures such as bolting homes to their foundations and adding shear walls and bracing.

NERT Class This Month

Mayor Gavin Newsom has made emergency preparedness--whether for a natural disaster or a terrorist attack--a top priority. To that end, the city has created a new emergency operations plan and will spend more than $60 million in federal homeland security grants on stepped-up readiness measures. Nevertheless, officials say city services will be overwhelmed in the event of a major earthquake, and residents should be prepared to fend for themselves for at least 72 hours.

One of the best ways to learn the necessary skills is by taking the Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT) training. Since the San Francisco Fire Department established the NERT program in 1989, an estimated 12,000 to 14,000 city residents have been trained, including some 2,000 in Noe Valley.

"The best thing the public can do is to take care of themselves," said Annemarie Conroy, newly appointed head of the San Francisco Office of Emergency Services and Homeland Security, at a meeting of the city's Disaster Council last month. "It's people's civic duty, so the city can focus on helping those who most need help."

The 20-hour NERT training includes earthquake awareness, hazard mitigation, how to shut off utilities, basic fire suppression, emergency triage and disaster medicine, light search and rescue, dealing with terrorism, and team organization and management. The final class gives trainees the opportunity to put their new skills to the test by extinguishing small fires, searching a darkened room filled with obstacles, and practicing triage and first-aid skills on volunteer "victims," made up to look injured.

In the event of a disaster, after ensuring the safety of their family and immediate neighbors, NERT members are asked to gather at their neighborhood staging area--which in Noe Valley is at James Lick Middle School--to help with the larger rescue and recovery effort.

"Participation in neighborhood teams is encouraged, but individuals taking the class so that they can help themselves during the first 72 hours after a disaster is the most important thing," says SFFD NERT coordinator Lt. Erica Arteseros. "During these lean times, the city is cutting services, which will add to the difficulty of getting city services after a natural or man-made disaster."

If you're reading this in early October, there's still time to sign up for the next Noe Valley/Castro NERT training, which will take place on three consecutive Saturdays, Oct. 9, 16, and 23. The free classes, taught by SFFD officers, will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at St. Philip's Church, 725 Diamond Street at 24th. To register, call 970-2024. For more information, visit or call 970-2022.

"Do it for yourself," urges Noe Valley NERT coordinator Maxine Fasulis. "It doesn't cost anything but a little time, and you'll walk away with a whole lot of information and skills you wouldn't have had otherwise."


Oct. 2: Noe Valley NERT neighborhood drill. Contact Maxine Fasulis at 641-5536 or

Oct. 9-10: Fleet Week Community Disaster Preparedness Fair. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Marina Green (Marina Blvd and Scott Street).

Oct. 9, 16 & 23: Noe Valley/Castro NERT training. The course is 20 hours spread out over three days, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. St. Philip's Church, 725 Diamond Street at 24th. Registration required: 970-2024. For info, contact Maxine Fasulis at

Oct. 17: Commemoration of the 15th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake, the 50th anniversary of the fireboat Phoenix, and the 15th anniversary of NERT. Fireboat tours 2 to 4 p.m.; commemoration program 4 to 6 p.m. Marina Green. For more information, see


Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT): nert. Noe Valley NERT Coordinator: Maxine Fasulis, or 641-5536.

S.F. Office of Emergency Services & Homeland Security: or 558-2700. Site features tips on what to do before, during, and after a disaster.

Disaster Registry Program: Department of Public Health registry for seniors and disabled persons who may need extra assistance during an emergency. Contact Ann Stangby at or 355-2605.

Auxiliary Communication System: a group of ham radio operators who provide emergency communications assistance. Contact or 558-2717.

American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter: offers first-aid and CPR classes, operates emergency shelters and relief services, and trains volunteers to help during disasters. www.bay or 427-8000.

Motorcycle Emergency Response Corps (MERC): motorcycle riders who assist SFFD and NERT by transporting messages, supplies, and rescuers when road traffic is impeded.

Step-by-Step Earthquake Prep


n Prepare an emergency kit containing water, food, flashlight, battery-powered radio, extra batteries, first-aid kit and medications, blankets, spare clothes, cash, and other basic supplies to get through the first 72 hours. Keep emergency supplies at home, at work, and in your car.

n Prepare a household emergency plan, including a place outside your home to reunite. Identify an out-of-state emergency contact person. Make plans for your pets, which are not allowed in emergency shelters. Review your plan and conduct drills each year.

n Learn when and how to shut off gas, water, and electricity, and have the necessary tools on hand.

n Keep an "ABC" fire extinguisher in an accessible location and learn how to use it. Make sure smoke detectors are working and replace batteries every six months.

n Store copies of important documents in a secure location outside your home.

n Survey your home for hazards, including hanging objects, unsecured furniture, and hazardous or flammable materials.


n If indoors, stay there. Drop to the floor. Get under a table or desk, hold on, and protect your head with your arms. Avoid exterior walls, windows, hanging objects, and tall furniture. Do not use elevators.

n If outdoors, get into an open area away from buildings, trees, and power lines.

n If driving, pull over in a safe area away from overpasses and power lines. Stay in your car until the shaking stops.


n Be prepared for aftershocks.

n Check for gas and water leaks. If damage is present, turn off gas and report leaks to PG&E. Check your home for cracks and other damage using a flashlight, not candles or matches.

n Listen to the radio (KCBS 740 AM) for news and instructions.

n Avoid using the telephone to keep lines open for emergency communications.

n Avoid driving to keep streets clear for emergency vehicles.