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Seismic testing facility

“Be prepared” community fair slated for Saturday

on September 22, 2011

If a natural disaster were to strike, there’s a good chance West Contra Costa County residents—like those in any place around the nation—could be left waiting. Waiting for food, waiting for water, waiting for basic needs as emergency personnel scramble to find survivors and assess the immediate damage.

The threat of disaster is especially real in coastal Richmond and its surrounding towns, which are located on the Hayward Fault and are at risk of tsunami, industrial disasters and especially earthquakes.

“At any given time, we’re prepared for an 8.0 magnitude earthquake,” said Kathy Gerk, director of Richmond’s Office of Emergency Services. “It’s not a matter of if it happens, but when it happens, so we want to make sure we prepare our community.”

Taking responsibility for oneself during emergencies or disasters is the message behind the West County Preparedness Fair, which will take place Saturday at the El Cerrito Del Norte BART station. The community event, which has been held for several years in Richmond but expanded a few years back to encompass all of West Contra Costa County, is being held in conjunction with Supervisor John Gioia’s office.

“We’ve seen in Katrina and [the tsunami in] Japan that residents have to be able to be on their own for a while, because the government and emergency responders are going to be tied up and busy finding survivors,” said Terrance Cheung, Gioia’s chief of staff. “The typical rule is you need to be able to survive for at least 72 hours on your own—but realistically, you should be ready to survive for a week.”

Surviving for a week or more requires certain things many individuals unfamiliar with disaster don’t think of, such as medications and supplies including a permanent marker and rope, Cheung said. It also requires making a plan of action before emergencies occur, by storing important documents in one place and communicating with family about where to meet in case phone lines and the Internet are down.

“Everyone should have their own plan,” Cheung said. “Residents need to know how to survive on their own for a few days until the infrastructure is back up and running.”

Gerk, a veteran of Richmond’s OES, knows how real the threat of natural disaster is. She came on the job just before the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, a 6.9 magnitude temblor that caused significant damage to Richmond’s Ford building, among others.

“We had quite a bit of shaking in the city of Richmond, and that epicenter was about 70 miles away,” Gerk said.

Since then, Richmond’s buildings have been retrofitted to meet seismic standards, she said.

Gerk has also witnessed and responded to a series of smaller emergencies over the years, including hazardous-materials releases and the COSCO Busan oil spill, a 2007 spill between San Francisco and Oakland that caused oil to wash up on Richmond’s shores, she said.

To handle potential disasters, Richmond and Contra Costa County maintain worst-case-scenario action-plans that include specific meeting places for emergency personnel and public officials, as well as potential shelter locations and where to acquire supplies, Gerk said.

But she emphasized that residents should not rely on their city or county to care for them immediately following an emergency, no matter how prepared those entities may be.

“We used to say call 911 and we’ll be there to help you, and now we’re telling people just the opposite,” she said. “Be prepared to be on your own, because 911 will be down during a disaster.”

Individuals with questions on how to best prepare for a disaster can visit Saturday’s fair from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Emergency personnel including healthcare workers and police and fire officials will be present, and mini workshops including CPR basics will be offered. Families can also get information about micro-chipping pets and what to include in emergency-preparedness kits. The event is free.

For more information on preparedness, visit

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