This is it -- the Big One. Bay Area residents have been anticipating the next major earthquake for years, and according to Lydia Kou, a 7.2 shock will hit Palo Alto on Saturday, Sept. 10, in the mid-morning.
She's speaking hypothetically, of course. Kou is the organizer of Quakeville, a grassroots disaster-simulation drill aimed at promoting emergency preparedness. Last year's pilot Quakeville was so successful that Mayor Sid Espinosa called for a repeat performance in his State of the City address in January.
This year, Quakeville will take place Sept. 10 and 11 and expand to two sites in the city -- Juana Briones and Rinconada parks, said Kou, a Barron Park resident.
As in 2010, the event will localize a major, real-life disaster. Last year's event followed the San Bruno gas-line explosion and simulated a neighborhood gas leak that occurred after an earthquake; this year follows the Japan earthquake.
The tent city, which forms the crux of the Quakeville experience, will serve as a testing ground where families can determine what their specific needs would be in a real disaster. Simulating a realistic scenario in which homes are destroyed or inaccessible and highways are closed, each household will bring its own supplies and camp overnight in a park along with other "victims."
In this setting, families will be naturally faced with a variety of challenges, such as determining how to keep children occupied and corral pets. Others will face graver questions, such as how to care for a functionally disabled parent who requires breathing help.
"Disasters don't discriminate. There needs to be more thought given to what people will do in those situations," Kou said.
This year's drill will be bigger than in 2010 and include more organizations and emergency teams working in a more coordinated effort. Palo Alto and Stanford residents will have a choice of two tent cities to camp in, and they'll also benefit from educational stations and exhibits put on by the Red Cross and others, according to Kou.
Kou said she wants people to know about local resources. She also hopes that organizations, such as the Red Cross and Palo Alto Animal Control, will find ways to combine efforts with one another.
The Palo Alto Police Department, Fire Department, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) and Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) teams will also join in to test their own procedures throughout the day, Kou said.
But she stressed that in a real disaster, response teams tend to be stretched extremely thin, which places the ultimate burden on individuals and families to prepare themselves, she said.
After taking a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) class, Kou and her husband, John St. Clair III, became interested in how residents could cope with disaster if whole neighborhoods were to be displaced and emergency crews tied up.
"She saw a missing link, in that there's no preparation for residents. The CERTs know what to do, but nobody else does," St. Clair said.
Kou has a deep passion to help people and jumped at the chance to join the Block Preparedness Coordinator program in their neighborhood, he said. She is also working with the Palo Alto Neighborhoods residential group to integrate plans at the city level and came up with the idea for Quakeville last year.
Last year's event included a surprise search-and-rescue simulation, prompting the tent city residents to band together to locate a missing and injured man. The lessons immediately became useful when a young girl actually wandered off without telling her family, only to be located soon thereafter, she said.
Kou declined to comment on what surprises might await this year's participants, but the unknown and unanticipated will be part of the event, she said.
"If you're not going through the actions, a lot of things never come to mind. Last year, we had all of our food, but no spatula. After that, we put a spatula in our kit. It's all discoveries," she said.
Quakeville will begin at both parks at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 10, and events will wrap up at noon the following day. Those wishing to camp overnight can pre-register by contacting Lydia Kou at 650-996-0028 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Campers can also do walk-up registration on Sept. 10.