Yesterday I attended the Loma Prieta 25 Symposium at the Kaiser Center. It was a quake geek’s Woodstock, where a motley host of experts got together to schmooze, celebrate 25 years of progress since the 1989 earthquake, and look ahead. At 10:16 a.m., along with 27 million other people around the world, we participated in the ShakeOut drill.
Since the Loma Prieta earthquake, Caltrans has finished reinforcing all of the state’s freeway overpasses, EBMUD and Hetch Hetchy have strengthened their principal water mains where they cross the Hayward fault, BART has strengthened its tracks and stations, and PG&E has made huge changes to make the power and gas system more robust. The airports and ports have been upgraded. The big bridges have been fixed or replaced (with only the Golden Gate Bridge upgrade to go).
The work done since Loma Prieta has also made governments work better. The mayor of Napa, Jill Techel, had high praise for the city, county and state emergency service agencies. She said PG&E did a wonderful job during the August earthquake. The federal agency FEMA was on top of things too. And the regional authority ABAG, the main sponsor of the symposium, was charged with energy and ideas to piggyback on the public awareness that followed the Napa quake.
Magnitude-6 events like the Napa earthquake will happen 10 times as often as the “big ones” we’re warned against. Even if the big ones will surely overwhelm some aspect of our preparations, the mitigation and preparedness in place can work wonders with the smaller events like the Napa quake.
The next steps that the experts laid out, the things they want done by Loma Prieta 50, involve increasing the Bay area’s resilience to disasters. Resilience means that people will not just avoid death and injury from a major earthquake, they’ll stay in their homes and return to their jobs quickly. The work of upgrading the infrastructure needs to move beyond the backbones to the limbs and arteries: neighborhood water and gas lines, smaller bridges, individual privately owned buildings. Oakland is ready to begin a program aimed at some 1800 soft-story residences in the city. The state’s earthquake insurance chief and the state senator heading the Insurance Committee were there to describe the advances they want to make in 2015. Progress works this way: inch by inch and year by year.