Experiencing an Earthquake and Building a Neighborhood

by | May 28, 2017 | News, Training

Our roaming reporter, Annette Glanckopf.

By Annette Glanckopf / May 25 2017 / Palo Alto CA

Last weekend, the Ventura neighborhood of Pepper and Olive Avenues in Palo Alto experienced a magnitude 4.3 earthquake along the San Andres followed by a 7.4 earthquake on the Hayward fault. Damage was significant across the bay area – no power, no water, no phones/internet and many structural failures, and bridges were down, freeway overpasses collapsed. This quiet neighborhood escaped the worst but still experienced massive shaking, broken items and glass, fallen water heaters, cracks in walls with continuing after shocks.

Not to worry. It was a neighborhood drill led by Susanne Jul of Creative Crisis Leadership in conjunction with Palo Alto Emergency Service Volunteers.

18 households participated. The drill consisted of a pre-event briefing and 2 rounds of scenarios. When the drill started each house was given an individual packet of earthquake impacts to their household that happened immediately after the quake and 3 days after. After residents experienced this first round, there was a period of reflection and discussion. The residents then received a second set of scenarios that again included immediate impacts after an earthquake and conditions three days after. During the drill, residents communicated their solutions to coordinators by sending photos and text messages. Coordinators stayed in touch with each other via hand-held radios.

The twin goals of this exercise were for neighbors to learn about the importance of emergency preparedness and for team leaders to study how people respond to disasters. After residents solved this set of problems, the group came back together for a final debriefing and sharing of experiences and lessons learned before a neighborhood BBQ,

Residents were resourceful during the 3 day scenario. Among the neighbors who were interviewed,

  • Scott and Simona organized a daily community potluck to share perishable items. This nourished all as well as provided a location for the community to come together and discuss how they felt and share news.
  • Probably the most prepared was William, who lives in his Dodge van. Since he experienced the Loma Prieta earthquake, he is always stocked with sufficient food, water, and batteries to be self-sufficient for days. He added that he always knows where things are kept.
  • Louis was also well prepared. He had extra water, camping and emergency supplies in his back-yard cache. He reported that he charged his cell phone from his car’s power outlet. When interviewed, he was making repairs to his cracked walls with his extensive tool collection.
  • Karen reported her water heater fell, spilling out all the water, even though it was strapped to the wall. Luckily she had a good supply of bottled water. After the first wave of shaking, she headed over to nearby Molly Stone’s – one of the first to arrive – and she luckily was able to stock up on key items. She commented that “ I didn’t realize how unprepared I was and couldn’t find a flashlight or extra batteries.”
  • Nicholas and his family knew to get under the dining room table when the shaking started. Unfortunately their dog got out of the house. Caring neighbors brought the dog back hours later, finding its home via the dog tags, Nicholas also reported that they were well prepared with supplies and water and had less broken glass than most.
  • Alaria said “so far, so good”, although her home has massive cracks and structural damage. She shut off her utilities, and now will have to wait till the city can come to turn them back on. She asked, “When will city services be restored?” Her cat disappeared, and must be hiding in some nook and cranny – maybe under the bed

At the end of the exercise, many important lessons were shared.

  • Water was recognized as the most important item to store. Most folks had bottled water or an extra supply in their sheds/garages
  • Don’t turn off your gas unless you smell, see or hear gas escaping
  • Have a sturdy pair of shoes close by, since there will be much broken glass
  • Don’t go near downed power lines, or any downed lines, even if you think they may only be phone lines. Stay 60 feet away. Close area off with garbage cans, furniture & signage.
  • How to use a fire extinguisher – pull pin, aim, spray back and forth at base of fire
  • Resources (water, food, power) are likely to be unavailable for 7-10 days, or even longer

Everyone reported learning something new. But the most important outcome was neighbors reaching out and helping other neighbors, realizing, as in this small corner of Palo Alto, that your best resource is your closest resource.

This neighborhood event was a pilot for Creative Crisis Leadership, whose mission is to understand and entrain spontaneous leadership skills. The goal is to increase community resilience by helping ordinary people practice improvising collective action in a crisis. The simulation was developed in cooperation with City of Palo Alto Office of Emergency Services. The event was supported by Palo Alto’s Know Your Neighbors Grant Program. To learn more about Creative Crisis Leadership see www CreativeCrisisLeadership.org.org or contact the Driving Force, Susanne Jul, at SJul@CreativeCrisisLeadership.org.

Annette Glanckopf is a regular with Palo Alto Emergency Services, where she serves as a CERT volunteer and NPC coordinator.