In the last few weeks, the ground has trembled beneath the feet of Berkeley community members about 20 times, shaking up not only our nerves but also our assurance that we would be safe should the “Big One” hit.
It is our perception that if a catastrophic earthquake were to occur, not only would students be at risk within the buildings they learn and dwell in, but many would not know how to respond to such an incident. The city and UC Berkeley cannot prevent an earthquake from happening, but officials can seek to improve the level of preparedness and understanding among residents and students.
Many campus and city buildings are vulnerable to tremors. About 70 buildings out of roughly 270 campus structures have been rated seismically poor or very poor according to the Seismic Action Plan for Facilities Enhancement and Renewal report, last updated in July. In the city, only 66 out of 269 landlords who own “soft story” buildings — those that are more prone to collapse during an earthquake — have retrofitted their buildings.
Additionally, the campus would depend on the city for assistance if an earthquake of magnitude 6.7 or more were to occur, but even the collaboration between their resources may not be enough. Berkeley Deputy Fire Chief Gil Dong said the fire department may not have the capacity to deal with all the emergencies that could arise. This is not at all reassuring.
We are disappointed that the campus and the city are not more seismically safe and fear that students will not be prepared should a catastrophic earthquake strike. For years, Berkeley has been known to be earthquake-prone: the Hayward fault line runs directly under the city and some predictions show that the chances of a large earthquake happening along this fault line within the next 30 years are nearly one in three. Nonetheless, we feel that the community remains ill-prepared.
While we understand that much of the city and the campus’s inability to retrofit all buildings is due to insufficient funding, there are inexpensive steps that can be taken to prepare the community. From our observations, students do not participate in earthquake drills and rarely encounter any information as to how to prepare themselves for or react to a disaster. This is concerning considering that one can hit at any moment. The campus has a responsibility to ensure the safety of students; the least it could do is reach out to them with information.
At least through further awareness, the people of Berkeley may feel more assured that they will know what to do if their houses once again begin to shake.