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Palo Alto public-safety officials, others shaken up

A day of lifelike earthquake simulations at the SAP software firm in the Stanford Research Park impresses participants

Some Palo Alto police and fire officials were shaken up Tuesday — but only for about 5 seconds.

"It was pretty compelling. Made me want to go home and strap some stuff down," Assistant Police Chief Dennis Burns said of his jolting experience.

And he received a take-home lesson, he said: "We need to partner with the public to ensure that we are spending more time in the preparedness phase and less time in the response phase."

The event was the arrival in town of The Big Shaker, a truck trailer fully furnished to resemble a living room. The trailer uses a sophisticated hydraulic system to recreate the experience of up to an 8.5-magnitude earthquake. Its corporate parent is a firm called Quakehold, which produces products to help prevent household objects from flying around injuring and killing people.

But the "quakes" experienced by visitors Tuesday were a mere 7.5 magnitude on the Richter Scale.

The stop in Palo Alto was by invitation of the international software company SAP, headquartered in Germany. The Big Shaker was parked near its Stanford Research Park offices as part of the company's recognition of Earthquake Awareness Month.

During several hours of its visit, The Big Shaker accommodated up to nine persons at a time in the "room" furnished with bookshelves, a television set and a couch.

People enter in nervous anticipation, chatting, settling in almost as if for a carnival ride. A signs warns pregnant women to stay out. The words, "We survived!" are scrawled across a poster.

Then the quake begins. The first waves provoke nervous laughter. But later, bigger waves throw books from the shelves, which have been secured with special straps and fasteners so they stay put. Five seconds can be really long.

Dan Reese, QuakeHold CEO and host for the experience, touts the importance of advance readiness for such an event

"We are trying to teach people that they need to be prepared," Reese said. "It's not a question of if [an earthquake is going to strike. It's a question of when."

If an earthquake were to strike the San Andreas Fault close to Palo Alto, "it would be like 30 Loma Prietas," Reese said, referring to the 1989 quake that occurred miles south of Palo Alto but caused extensive damage nevertheless.

SAP employees who took the ride were similarly impressed, and most agreed they are not as prepared for a major earthquake as they could be.

"In my apartment with that shake things would be toppling over," software developer Marius Meissner said.

Vijay Gakhar agreed. "We talk about it a lot but I don't think we're prepared," he said.

Reese emphasizes that about 80 percent of injuries and deaths from earthquakes are caused by common household objects that could have been secured for a cost of between $50 and $100 for a typical room. He demonstrates how flexible straps and specialized fasteners can secure furniture and electronics devices without damage.

And he warns that people need to be ready to take care of themselves and their own family for up to several days after a really big quake, demonstrating kits with enough food and water to last a family of four up to three days.

Related stories:

• Major quake expected to hit California by 2037

-- Jillian Keenan and Jay Thorwaldson


Like this comment
Posted by dave
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 16, 2008 at 8:11 pm

PANDA supported by our Fire Dept. gives a course on how to be prepared and how to help others after a quake. I urge you to seek it out.

Annette Ashton is organizing an City wide Emergency Preparation effort. Ken Dueker of the police dept. is a good resource to get information from.

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