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How to Prepare for the Big One
By Liz Highleyman
In 2001, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) warned of three major threats: a terrorist attack in New York City, a hurricane in New Orleans, and an earthquake in San Francisco. Since then, two of these disasters have come to pass--and the U.S. Geological Survey says there's a 60 percent chance the Bay Area will experience a major earthquake within the next 30 years.
You're on Your Own
As the federal response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita has demonstrated, citizens may be on their own in the aftermath of a disaster that overwhelms local services and infrastructure. In fact, the San Francisco Fire Department (SFFD) warns that residents should be prepared to fend for themselves for at least 72 hours.
"The best thing the public can do is to take care of themselves," says Annemarie Conroy, head of the San Francisco Office of Emergency Services and Homeland Security. "It's people's civic duty, so the city can focus on helping those who most need help."
Unlike hurricanes, earthquakes come without warning, but there are several steps you can take to prepare yourself, your family, and your community. For comprehensive preparedness tips and a list of recommended emergency supplies, see the city's web site at www.72hours.org.
Before, During, and After
With recent events in the gulf states fresh in our minds, there's no better time to prepare for an earthquake or other natural or man-made disaster.
* Make an emergency plan for yourself and your household. Pick a place outside your home to reunite, and identify an out-of-state emergency contact. Discuss your plan with your children. Think about how you will care for your pets. Review your plan and conduct drills each year. Learn the disaster plans of your employer and your children's school.
* Put together an emergency kit containing water (one gallon per person per day) and food for at least three days, flashlights, a battery-powered radio, extra batteries, a first-aid kit and important medications, blankets, spare clothes and sturdy shoes, pet supplies (food, leash, carrier), cash (including coins for pay phones), hygiene supplies, work gloves, tools, garbage bags, duct tape, and other basic supplies to get through the first 72 hours. Keep emergency supplies at home, at work, and in your car (and keep your gas tank at least half full).
* Learn when and how to shut off gas, water, and other utilities, and have the necessary tools on hand. Keep an "ABC" fire extinguisher in an accessible location and learn how to use it. Make sure smoke detectors are in working order and replace batteries regularly.
* Make copies of important documents (including IDs, prescriptions, insurance information). Store one set in your emergency kit and another at a secure location outside your home.
* During an earthquake, if you find yourself indoors, stay there. Drop to the floor, take cover under a sturdy 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. If you're outdoors, move to an open area away from buildings, trees, and power lines. If you're driving, pull over in a safe area away from overpasses and power lines. Stay in your car until the shaking stops.
* Afterwards, be prepared for aftershocks. Check for gas and water leaks. If you detect damage, turn off the gas and report leaks to PG&E. Check your home for cracks and other damage using a flashlight, not candles or matches. Listen to the radio (KCBS 740-AM) for news and instructions. Avoid driving, to keep streets clear for emergency vehicles.
NERT Gets You Ready
One of the best ways to learn basic disaster preparedness and response skills is to take the Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT) training. NERT was established by the SFFD after the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989; since then, an estimated 12,000 city residents have taken the training, including some 2,000 in Noe Valley.
The 20-hour training includes earthquake awareness, hazard mitigation, basic fire suppression, utility shutoff, light search and rescue, emergency triage and disaster medicine, terrorism issues, and team organization and management. The final class gives trainees the opportunity to put their skills to the test by extinguishing small fires, searching a simulated disaster scene, and treating volunteer "victims."
In the event of a disaster, NERT members are asked to gather at their neighborhood staging area to help with the larger rescue and recovery effort. Noe Valley's staging area is at James Lick Middle School at Noe and Clipper streets.
Next Training in December
The next training for residents of Noe Valley, Fair Oaks, the Mission, and Potrero Hill will begin on Dec. 3, and will run for three consecutive Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Classes will take place at the SFFD Division of Training at 2310 Folsom Street. A full schedule of upcoming trainings, as well as the class curriculum, can be found on the NERT web site at www.sfgov.org/sffdnert.
In lieu of a fall drill this year, the Noe NERT team will have a booth at the Noe Valley Harvest Festival on Oct. 22.
"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."