'Quakeville' tent city to test disaster preparedness

Sept. 11 event at Briones Park will be neighborhood's dress rehearsal for the 'Big One'

The ground is shaking violently. Family heirlooms and knickknacks are flying like projectiles off walls and shelves. Glass is shattering, and the rolling motion seems to go on forever.

When the "Big One" strikes, residents could find their homes uninhabitable, and figuring out how to live in the hours, days and weeks after a major disaster will become their No. 1 concern.

The scenario is the focus of a Sept. 11 disaster drill planned for Barron Park residents, who will erect a tent city at Juana Briones Park.

It won't be a neighborhood picnic. People will have to bring their own tents, water and food. Grills won't be allowed. There will be no electricity for the duration of the event, which runs from 3:30 p.m. till 10 a.m. the next day.

Some surprise incidents, mimicking possible real-life disaster scenarios, are planned to test people's responses, according to event coordinator Lydia Kou.

Dubbed "Quakeville," the drill is designed to shake people out of their denial.

Quakeville will kick off a series of citywide disaster-preparedness events throughout September and October. Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt and the Palo Alto/Stanford Citizen Corps Council have declared September as Emergency Preparedness Month citywide.

Other organizations have piloted tent-city disaster preparations. The Bakersfield Memorial Hospital created a tent city earlier this year as part of its emergency drills for an H1N1 virus surge, according to the California Hospital Association.

Quakeville will put disaster preparedness into the hands of the citizenry, who will be the first on the ground to deal with neighborhood emergencies, Kou said.

"It's exciting because it involves all citizens. In the past, drills involved emergency volunteers only," said Kou, who also is co-chair of the Palo Alto Neighborhoods block-preparedness-coordinator program and is a Barron Park Neighborhood Association disaster-prep leader.

Kou said Quakeville will help give residents a sense of what they might encounter, and need, when forced out of their homes and into close contact with many other people.

"Will you need earplugs in case the person sleeping in the tent next to you snores? Will you need hay-fever medicine? How will you entertain yourself and your kids?"

Quakeville could become an integral part of Palo Alto's emergency-preparedness training in future years, if successful, according to Kelly Morariu, Palo Alto's assistant to the city manager. The Palo Alto City Council named emergency preparedness as one of the city's top priorities for 2010.

Morariu and some City Council members are expected to attend.

"We're very supportive. It's a good test run. It's hard to know what will happen in a disaster," she said.

Quakeville residents will also get a tour of the city's new $300,000 mobile emergency-operations command unit, which will play a key role in communications and coordination when a disaster strikes and other communication systems fail.

The council will hold a study session on Sept. 13 on emergency preparedness and will discuss the mobile-command vehicle and its capabilities, Morariu said.

Annette Glanckopf Ashton, chair of the Palo Alto Neighborhoods committee for disaster preparedness, said the city's support of Quakeville signals new support for community-based preparedness. Palo Alto Neighborhoods' block-preparedness coordinator program, which has been funded almost entirely by residents, received a $20,000 grant from the city in late June.

"Sept. 11 is a very appropriate day for people to come together to commemorate friendships and lives lost," she said, adding that the city is encouraging other neighborhoods to hold block parties on Sept. 11 to build community connections.

"It's an act of remembrance," she said.

Residents will have a block party focusing on block preparedness in her Midtown neighborhood, she said.

Kou said she hopes to expand the annual drill, with sites at Mitchell and Rinconada parks next year.

Barron Park residents interested in joining Quakeville must pre-register. On drill day, they'll check in and set up tents at reserved spots.

For volunteer block-preparedness coordinators and other volunteer responders, Quakeville will be a golden opportunity, Kou said.

"Volunteers never had this opportunity. It will be an eye-opener for us," she said.

One area she hopes to resolve is what to do with pets. For the Sept. 11 event, organizers are encouraging people not to bring their animals. But at tent city they'll look for ways to resolve that concern, she said.

Palo Alto residents who aren't part of Quakeville will have opportunities in the coming weeks to take part in disaster-preparedness events.

Related material:

Upcoming disaster preparedness events

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Like this comment
Posted by Lisa
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 20, 2010 at 5:01 pm

Who does one contact to pre-register for the Quakeville Emergency Preparedness drill?

Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of University South
on Aug 21, 2010 at 12:40 am

I'm curious why a tent city is viewed as a viable option for emergency shelter. Public Health Departments generally discourage the set up of such "tent cities" because of poor sanitation facilities and inability to set up a unified command and control system of these areas. If the city is serious about emergency preparedness, they should ensure the seismic stability of key community facilities such as Cubberly Community Center where a shelter can be opened by a non-profit. Or, the city must start planning now to create disaster trailers at these parks that contain portable toilets and check in materials to prevent a public health nightmare.

Like this comment
Posted by Tired-of-Bad-Ideas
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 23, 2010 at 11:11 am

This is nuts. Why would anyone want to stay in a "tent city" when they could drive out of the area and stay in a motel, possibly a state park, or a military installation, all of which would (or could be) better provisioned for such things.

Running water, electricity, food, toilet facilities and waster pickup will all be operational outside the main "impact zone" of such a "big one". How are all of these necessities going to be supplied to a school yard in Palo Alto?

This is another example of people with too much time on their hands, and no common sense.

Like this comment
Posted by Sue Dremann
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Aug 23, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Sue Dremann is a registered user.

To register for Quakeville, contact Lydia Kou at

Like this comment
Posted by mj
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 23, 2010 at 4:00 pm

To "Tired of Bad Ideas"

I would love to know what route you might use to get out of the area after a big earthquake. If it is big enough to make our houses inhabitable won't it also bring down at least some of the freeway overpasses? And there will surely be electric wires down on some of our roads. So driving out of your neighborhood will likely be difficult. Maybe you plan to use a bike? Or do you have a boat on the bay you can sail up or down the coast to get away? Just wondering.

Like this comment
Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 23, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Better than being stuck down a mine in Chile for 3 months waiting for rescue.
They have already been trapped for 17 days at 2,300ft below and now have communication through a grapefruit sized hole from the surface.

33 men will be stuck in a tiny rescue cave for 3 months at 97 degrees F
buried alive, they could send them small devices so they can watch movies I suppose + lots of vitamin D--- sanitation will be a challenge.
Apparently the rescuers have not told them they will be there for 3 month yet. What should they send down through the tiny tube?

Like this comment
Posted by mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 23, 2010 at 4:50 pm

I think this is a great idea. My Mom was 7 when the Long Beach earthquake hit in 1933. They lived in a tent in the park for 2 weeks! They could go back to their house for supplies, but were not allowed to sleep there or stay in the house. It was March, so it wasn't too cold, but many schools were destroyed. That was a 6.4.

Drive away? Remember the Bay Bridge in 1989? In spite of better building codes, it may be very difficult to get out of the area if there is a quake bigger than 7.5.

Like this comment
Posted by andreas
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 24, 2010 at 1:05 pm

You must have 14 days of food, water, candles, medicine, etc. (incl. food and water for your pets!)

When the Big One comes, it could take the US government up to 14 days to restore power, food, etc. You saw what happened with Katrina.

Go online, find a list for an earthquake supply kit, and put the stuff where you can reach it. See a list at Web Link

The tent city is an excellent idea.

"Just go to a motel"? Yes, along with five million others on broken freeways with collapsed bridges to motels that lack power and water. Gas stations can't pump gas if there is no electricity. You'll end up on the side of the road in Central California.

Telephones and cell phones won't work. To reserve the lines for hospitals and police, the public lines will blocked (and no web either). However, you can use SMS (text messaging) on your cell phone. Be sure to have a few cell phone numbers outside of California on your cell phone's address book.

Like this comment
Posted by Uncle Bobs GO-Bags
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Oct 1, 2010 at 11:03 am

Please share this fully assembled Emergency Preparedness Kit with everyone. It has almost everything you need (except for specific toiletries you want) all packed in a high qualilty back-pack.

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