At a time of heightened concern about wildfires and other potentially catastrophic events, the UC Berkeley community is eager and willing to prepare for potential emergencies and disasters. Since joining the UC Berkeley Office of Emergency Management in April, I have collaborated with students, staff and faculty on preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery initiatives across campus. I have been delighted with the readiness to prepare, exercise and respond to disasters of all shapes and sizes. As someone who has worked in this field for 15 years, I find our collective desire to protect the people and places we hold dear to be impressive.
Nearly every day we are bombarded by the headlines of crises happening around the world. We are often left with very little ability to have an impact on these events — except for one very important takeaway. Disasters around the world can remind us to prepare for the inevitable crisis that will impact our own community. I have worked with communities of all sizes on hazards from chemical weapons to wildfire risk and recovery. There is one commonality in all of that work: preparedness for what may come. Anticipating disaster and preparing accordingly can mean all the difference in how we recover.
Let’s take a timely and pressing example of preparedness here at UC Berkeley. The geography of UC Berkeley places the campus at heightened risk for wildfire, as it is located at an wildland-urban interface in drought- and fire-prone California. Preparing for such an event is a campus priority. This semester we are undertaking fire mitigation projects, including the reduction of fuel for wildfires on Grizzly Peak. We are engaging key stakeholders in tabletop exercises focusing on evacuation capabilities and the needs of buildings most at risk. On the decision making side, senior leaders are discussing protocols needed to respond as a campus community and upgrading notification tools to allow for more timely alert and notification. You may not see this important behind-the-scenes work, but we are preparing for the inevitable.
As we practice and prepare, you can also do the same. The age-old advice to make a kit, have a plan and get informed apply to all of us at UC Berkeley. Prepare your place of residence with non-perishable food, three days worth of water and a copy of your emergency contacts (in case your phone doesn’t work.) A little bit of self-reliance can go a long way in a disaster. Although we work to prepare the whole community, these critical steps can ensure that students stay safe throughout an emergency.
Know where to meet or go if you’re separated from those you care about. Take a few moments to find the exits, stairwells, designated waiting areas and emergency assembly areas in the buildings you frequent most. Prepare your parents and family members by sharing your disaster plan with them. If they are comfortable with your plan, it will be much easier for them to stay calm in a crisis.
Be informed about what is happening around you. If your building experiences a fire alarm, leave quickly. If you hear the outdoor warning siren, go inside and seek more information. Register your mobile device for UC Berkeley WarnMe emergency alerts by visiting warnme.berkeley.edu.
And finally, please join the campus community in participating in the Great California ShakeOut. On October 17 at 10:17 a.m., encourage your classes, residence halls, co-ops, departments and friends to practice what they would do during an earthquake. Drop, cover and hold on — and reach out to your friends and family to share your plan, as well as discuss what you will do during any disaster.
UC Berkeley is home to some 70,000 of us each day. By working together as a community committed to emergency preparedness, we can ensure we are doing all we can to protect this special place and each other.
Alicia D. Johnson is UC Berkeley’s director of emergency management. Prior to joining UC Berkeley, she served as resilience and recovery manager for the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management.