Saturday, October 17, 2009

Loma Prieta 20th Anniversary - Earthquake Preparedness

Blood-stained earthquake survivors of the next Great Quake to rumble in San Francisco have been laid on the green at the Marina today. Others have been pulled by practicing hands from beneath mounds of rubble.

Today marks the 20th Anniversary of the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, the last great quake to devastate the city since the Great Quake of 1906. And since Tuesday of this week, the Big Rumble

has been the city's response to both remember the past and prepare for the future.

The Big One, that scientists say is coming in the next 30 years.

Today at the Marina, the worst damaged area in 1989 as it was built on landfill, and at three other sites in the city, the voluntary organization Neighbourhood Emergency Response Team - NERT - held their annual drill. NERT is a voluntary wing of the San Francisco Fire Department.

'We act as the eyes and ears of the fire department,' said Edie Schaffer, Coordinator Chair of the NERT Advisory Board.

In an earthquake, NERT volunteers are responsible for finding victims, assessing injuries and damage and reporting to and manning stations, run in the same way that the fire department run their Incident Command System - ICS. From the stations, they will directly contact the Battalion Chief at his or her Emergency Department Coordination Center.

For the drill, members of emergency and key city services combined forces to train volunteers and educate the public.

Programme Coordinator Erica Arteseros, a Lieutenant in the San Francisco Fire Department, said, 'We are practicing response skills for putting out small fires, completing searches, triaging injured patients and most importantly, how to do this as an organized team.

A short while later, her colleague, firefighter John Caba, balanced on a plank laid over the squashed 'body' of a mannequin. 'I represent thousands and thousands of pounds,' he said to the volunteers clustered around him in hard hats and emergency response jackets.

Chunk of wood by chunk of wood, John instructed them to 'build a box' to raise one end of the plank and eventually lift the weight off the trapped person. In a real earthquake, they could use rubble, jacks, items from a grocery store.

'This is not a race, with any kind of rescue. Move deliberately,' he said, instructing the rescuers to communicate verbally with each other as they worked. Eventually, the person was pulled clear with their head, neck and shoulders supported.

Afterwards, John said, 'In an earthquake situation people are going to help people, strangers are going to help strangers.

'We can't prepare for everything, in a disaster I think we are going to be overwhelmed and that's why I think it's important to have a programme like this.'

Fires will be a major hazard in the next quake. 'You need over 250 fire engines to put out all the fires,' he said.

How many have they got? 'About 40', he replied.

'It's all up to chance,' he continued. Buildings are made now so that they are earthquake resistant - and the city has had a huge retrofitting programme - but can you, he said, control the shattering of glass, for example?

'You can only do so much, are you going to encase your house in bubblewrap?!'

Behind him, as he prepared for his next group, there were anguished cries from Nora. 'Help! I'm over here!' she called out to the search and rescue team. Nora, beautifully injured on her arm - pictured above - is one of the make-up team who prepared the victims spread out over the grass.

'Being a neighbourhood coordinator is one of the hardest jobs in NERT,' said Edie Schaffer.

'Because we're a voluntary organization, one of the most imortant things to do is to be prepared for a disaster. We have a tendency as human beings to put our head in the sand. The wonderful thing about NERT is that it encourages us to take care of ourselves as we know our First Responders are going to be overwhelmed.'

Another of the main goals of NERT and The Big Rumble is to get people to prepare their homes.

'NERT teaches us to look at our homes with earthquake eyes so that we can fix things that might hurt us in an earthquake - for example, pictures or chemicals - . The more we can learn to fix these things, the safer we will be and the quicker we will recover,' said Edie.

How effective has the Big Rumble has been?

Lt Erica Arteseros said, 'It has gotten a lot of attention but even with all of that I still meet people every day who don't know they can get free training through the fire service.'


For all the info you need on training to help in the next Great Quake and how to prepare yourself and your home:
......cont in next blog......

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