UC Berkeley prepares for earthquakes, shootings, other disasters

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Departments across campus are constantly planning and preparing for the next big disaster.

The Office of Emergency Management, or OEM, is the central department in charge of determining response protocols for emergencies and disasters on campus. Potential disasters the office would manage include earthquakes, utility failures and active shooters on campus — some of which devastated sister campuses this summer, after the shooting rampage in Isla Vista and flooding at UCLA.

As a small office with only four people, OEM is composed of staff who are “ambassadors to the campus” in terms of emergency preparedness, said Amina Assefa, manager of OEM. In an emergency, the office would direct different campus units to implement protocols aimed at mitigating harm to people on campus.

After an explosion in September — the most recent campus disaster — a report produced by OEM identified areas where campus administrators could have improved their responses to the situation. Among other points, the report found that the campus radio station KALX wasn’t utilized as a resource in broadcasting details of the incident. Assefa said notifying the radio station has now been implemented as a part of their emergency response procedure.

“Fortunately, emergencies don’t happen every day,” Assefa said. “When they do, we really try to learn as much as we can from them.”

OEM will be launching a free smartphone app at the end of August that will provide directions for students on what they should do in emergency situations, such as earthquakes or power outages.

“There’s kind of an individual responsibility for your own preparedness,” Assefa said. “We hope that students read it ahead of time.”

Assefa said many students didn’t get notification about the explosion from WarnMe, the campus emergency warning service, and some received significantly delayed alerts. The campus’s information services and technology department has since worked with Google to bypass Gmail so that students, faculty and staff can get the email alert much faster.

The default contact method for WarnMe alerts is through email, but Assefa said one of OEM’s “big pushes” is to get students to understand they need to enter their phone number to receive text message notifications.

Aiming for a bulletproof plan

UCPD spokesperson Lt. Eric Tejada said campus police officers are trained at least once a year to handle situations involving an active shooter, including learning how to assist people who are injured and managing the scene.

“It can happen virtually anywhere,” Tejada said. “That’s why when we do the training, we try to get different facilities and different locations.”

In June, UCPD officers and volunteers roleplayed an active shooter situation at Memorial Stadium. They have previously trained in classrooms, office settings and open areas. Community service officers, emergency medical technicians and some members of the football team volunteered to roleplay patrons at the stadium, Tejada said. As one of the organizers of the training, Tejada tries to make the simulations as realistic as possible by using blanks and airsoft guns.

UCPD boasts a bomb squad, SWAT team and canine unit to respond to threats on campus. Tejada said preparing for a large-scale terrorist attack is also part of their active shooter training.

He said the initial police response when there is an active shooter is to immediately “locate, isolate and neutralize” the threat as safely as possible with no more than four officers. Once the scene is secure, police will rescue victims, and Berkeley Fire Department personnel will enter the area.

The last time there was a shooter on campus was in 2011, when UC Berkeley student Christopher Travis was shot by a UCPD officer after brandishing a gun. He later died from his injuries.

Seismic strategy

According to the campus seismological laboratory, there is a 62 percent probability that there will be a 6.7 magnitude earthquake or greater in the Bay Area in the next 30 years. An earthquake of this magnitude could cause considerable damage buildings and shift them off their foundations, according to the United States Geological Survey.

Assefa emphasized the importance of students being proactive in preparing for an earthquake. She said most, however, don’t know about the resources that are available to them and don’t have a “go-bag” prepared with supplies that are essential in the aftermath of an earthquake, including sturdy shoes, hand sanitizer and duct tape. Assefa said OEM, working with Residential and Student Services Programs, is attempting to find a sponsor to make go-bags for students.

Christine Shaff, director of communications at the campus real estate division, said in the aftermath of an earthquake, a team from the division would perform evaluations on buildings and utilities.

Tejada said UCPD has sufficient generators, go-bags and other resources to operate for several days without outside assistance in the event of a major earthquake or other disaster.

A flood of possibilities

Shaff said an event similar to the catastrophic flood at UCLA on Tuesday is unlikely because UC Berkeley’s campus does not have water mains the size of the one that burst in Los Angeles.

An underground water line broke under Eshelman Road several years ago, causing some asphalt to pop up and water to run into the gutters, but it was not as damaging as the event at UCLA.

“We upgrade where we can and we plan as best we can, but you never know,” Shaff said. “I don’t know that anybody at UCLA thought that much water would show up.”

Despite this uncertainty, OEM has detailed response plans for disasters ranging from hazardous materials to pandemics, and Tejada said UCPD is trained to respond to pretty much any emergency situation.

“The only thing we haven’t trained for is the zombie apocalypse,” Tejada said.

Contact Angel Grace Jennings at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @angeljenningss.