We all know that the “big one” — an impending earthquake of unknown magnitude and incredible potential for destruction — is coming. The only question is when. It might come tonight, in five years or in 20, but one thing is for sure: It is coming.
A string of small earthquakes around the Bay Area in recent weeks has only prompted more concern among residents. Though each was barely noticeable, some worry it could be a precursor to huge movement on the San Andreas Fault, now nearly 100 years overdue. Such an earthquake would be devastating, likely impacting most Californian cities and potentially cutting off access to roads, water supplies and food.
It is precisely because of this uncertainty and potential for mass destruction that UC Berkeley and the city of Berkeley must be better prepared for the “big one.”
UC Berkeley has made notable progress in prioritizing earthquake safety, with all buildings evaluated using the UC seismic rating system, which was created in collaboration with California State Universities and the California Department of General Services. According to campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof, no campus buildings in use are rated VII, or “unsafe to occupy.”
Additionally, 23 buildings rated VI, or “needs improvement,” are scheduled for replacement, retrofitting or being completely vacated by the end of 2030, an ambitious improvement plan. To date, Mogulof added, campus has invested more than $1 billion dollars to improve seismic safety in buildings.
The city of Berkeley provides numerous resources for those hoping to learn more about earthquake safety — residents can easily access the city website to learn how to sign up for emergency notifications, register for the city’s Community Emergency Response Team training classes and create personal disaster plans.
However, improvements in both campus and city policies are needed to ensure all safety measures are cemented before an earthquake.
Enforcing building codes that keep residents safe and ensuring that regular checks are carried out at apartment buildings are essential to keep structures as earthquake safe as possible.
The city also needs solidified plans to protect houseless residents or provide them with care and supplies in the case of a major earthquake. Similarly, low-income, disabled and elderly residents must be prioritized when the city government considers earthquake preparedness. Small grants for qualified residents to buy supplies, the distribution of “go bags” or free community workshops that increase awareness are all plausible routes that can ensure the most vulnerable members of our community are not left behind in a major earthquake.
On campus, administrators must collaborate with departments and professors to ensure fire codes are followed in buildings, even if that means moving some large courses entirely online or rotating in-person attendance days.
Additionally, campus must emphasize and prioritize students receiving some form of earthquake safety training, even if only offered online or during orientation. For example, students must know where they can evacuate to after an earthquake, what materials they should keep prepared in their dorms or living spaces, as well as how they should respond and potentially assist others in the immediate aftermath of a serious earthquake.
In both campus and city responses, communication plans must be streamlined, strengthened and communicated prior to the earthquake.
Currently, campus advises students to utilize the WarnMe emergency alert system for updates in the event of an emergency. The city urges residents to check sources including Zonehaven, AC Alert, 1610 AM radio or the television. However, these methods of communication are useless if people are not equipped with the tools to respond to them.
On campus, that means increased encouragement to sign up for these services; in the city, that means ensuring that residents who are the most vulnerable, such as lower-income families or the elderly, have access to different types of technology in the case of an emergency.
Though our city and campus are undoubtedly working hard to prepare for an earthquake, it is imperative that we do not lose urgency and intensity toward improvement. When any day could be the day the “big one” hits, every second matters — we need to make all of them count.