UC Berkeley would depend on city to respond to ‘Big One’

Andrew Kuo/File
Furniture inside Campbell Hall was moved around in preparation for the hall being opened for Free Day. The items inside would have otherwise been destroyed along with the hall in 2012.

If an earthquake of 6.7 magnitude or greater occurred on the Hayward fault line, which runs through UC Berkeley and Berkeley, power would be lost, water and sewage pipes would break, freeways would be disrupted and there would likely be landslides.

The campus would enter a state of emergency and coordinate emergency response efforts between campus authorities and the Berkeley Fire Department.

But in the event of such a severe quake, the resources of both agencies might not be enough to adequately respond to the disaster.

Forecasts indicate that there is a 31 percent chance of such an earthquake hitting the Hayward Fault line, and a two in three chance of one hitting the Bay Area, over the next 30 years, according to the 2008 Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast.

Those probabilities may be even higher depending on whom you ask, according to Jim Lienkaemper, a senior researcher for the U.S. Geological Survey, who said a 6.5 magnitude quake could also cause significant damage.

If the magnitude of the emergency exceeds the campus’s capacity to handle, it would have to rely on the Berkeley Fire Department, said Stephen Stoll, director of the campus’s Office of Emergency Preparedness.

But the department may not have the capacity to deal with all of the emergencies on its own, according to Berkeley Deputy Fire Chief Gil Dong. Dong said the department manages emergencies based on the “yo-yo” concept, meaning “you’re on your own.”

“We only have 34 firefighters,” he said.

In 1989, a Loma Prieta earthquake-caused fire on Durant Avenue required all of the department’s resources.

If something like that were to happen today, the department would likely need to call in other agencies in the Bay Area and, if needed, agencies throughout the state, according to Dong.

Once the campus has declared a state of emergency, all buildings would be evacuated and blocked off until officials have completed safety checks of each building.

“Even if a building looks like there is nothing wrong with it, it could have some serious damage to it, and all it takes is somebody to go through the door and slam the doors and boom — it comes down,” Stoll said.

In addition to general evacuation procedures, the campus has spelled out further plans for each building.

At the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory up the hill from campus, the office has prepared emergency transportation routes if the single road up to the lab is rendered impassable.

“We’ve actually got footpaths for them — people obviously aren’t going to drive — but we actually have designated footpaths where they can safely come down the hill to come down this way to the other side of the fault,” Stoll said. “It’s all part of that big picture plan of things.”

But there is no way of knowing whether students are aware of the building-specific emergency plans.

If an earthquake hit while UC Berkeley sophomore Chelsea Smith was in Eshleman Hall, where a club she is part of is based and which has been rated seismically “poor” by the campus’s 1997 SAFER report, she knows what she would do.

“I’d probably just get under one of the desks,” Smith said.

She added that she knew nothing about any evacuation plans on campus.

Peggy Hellweg, a researcher at the UC Berkeley Seismological Laboratory, said she doubts the value of any reactive measures.

“If they tell you there is 90 percent chance of rain and you go out without a raincoat or umbrella, what are you going to do?” Hellweg said. “Earthquakes are about the same.”

Minimizing damage is a matter of getting our building codes and housing stock in shape, Lienkaemper said.

“We’re overdue (for an earthquake),” Dong said. “We can’t emphasize enough … that we need to be prepared.”


The map above highlights UC Berkeley buildings that are seismically rated “Poor” or “Very Poor” by the Seismic Action Plan for Facilities Enhancement and Renewal report released in 1997. The green pins mark buildings that were labeled “Poor” while the yellow pins mark buildings labeled “Very Poor” by the report, which was last updated in July 2011.

The SAFER program defines a “Poor” rating as “buildings and other structures expected to sustain significant structural and nonstructural damage and/or result in falling hazards in a major seismic disturbance, representing appreciable life hazards.”

A “Very Poor” rating is defined as “buildings and other structures whose performance during a major seismic disturbance is anticipated to result in extensive structural and nonstructural damage, potential structural collapse, and/or falling hazards that would represent high life hazards.”

The SAFER report first identified 95 buildings marked as “Poor” or “Very Poor,” totaling 27 percent of campus square footage. Since then nearly 75 percent of the needed repairs have been completed, according to Christine Shaff, communications director for Facilities Services. UC Berkeley has used state funds marked for campus capital improvement only for seismic repairs since 1997. It was originally estimated that it would take 20 years to upgrade all buildings labeled as “Poor” or “Very Poor” but it is likely to take longer because state funds used for this project have been reduced in recent years, according to Shaff.

— Franklin Krbechek

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Franklin Krbechek’s name.