by Don Kazak and Jason Rothman
Five years after the Loma Prieta earthquake shook Peninsula homes off their foundations, toppled chimneys and devastated Stanford campus, two things appear clear--while some locals are still recovering, some have stopped remembering. And it is the latter group that has local emergency officials most concerned.
"The only thing tougher than planning for a disaster is explaining why you didn't," said Bob Fields, manager of emergency services for Santa Clara County.
One place that has not forgotten what occurred at 5:04 p.m. on Oct. 17, 1989, is Stanford University.
In fact, the university will hold one of its periodic disaster drills, today, Oct. 12, to help it prepare for the next big one. In the drill, people from all of the university's major buildings and departments will get together and figure out how to respond to a make-believe disaster of buildings falling down and decisions needing to be made.
The drills are aimed at uncovering any weak spots in the university's earthquake preparedness.
The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake caused Stanford to significantly revise its emergency plans. In the aftermath of the quake, then-President Donald Kennedy appointed a commission to review the university's preparedness and make recommendations.
As a result, the university buried 12 silos with enough food and other supplies to sustain 10,000 people for three days. Emergency supply kits were also given to all resident fellows and resident assistants.
In addition, the university's utility systems were reviewed to determine how quickly they could be brought on-line again after a disruption. Plans for emergency phone lines and power generators were made at the new Ford Athletic Center so it can serve as a backup emergency operations center.
Although it wasn't immediately recognized at the time, Stanford suffered more damage in the Loma Prieta earthquake than anyplace between Santa Cruz and San Francisco.
The university's damage, for the most part, wasn't dramatic. No one was seriously injured or killed. But it was expensive, mostly to turn-of-the-century unreinforced masonry buildings, the most vulnerable of all structures during major quakes.
Post-quake inspections closed down two dozen buildings as unsafe. Most of those buildings have been repaired and are in use again, but some significant structures are still empty, five years later, and some academic departments have been displaced into other facilities for that long.
Stanford suffered $158 million in damage in the Loma Prieta quake. Significant buildings that are still closed, and their cost of repair: one wing of Green Library ($35 million), the Stanford Museum ($29 million), Language Corner of the Main Quad ($11.5 million) and Geology Corner of the Main Quad ($10.6 million).
It took the university four years to negotiate with the Federal Emergency Management Agency over how much the agency would pay to repair the damaged buildings, a process that greatly frustrated university administrators.
The main sticking point in the negotiations was the standards that should be used in repairing buildings 80 or more years old. One of Stanford's landmark buildings, Memorial Church, was separate from that process and has been repaired through private donations.
As the list of buildings awaiting repair at Stanford slowly shortens, there is also a significant building at the end of the list--Building 10, where President Gerhard Casper and other top administrators have offices. "It will clearly collapse in the next earthquake," Casper admitted last year. But a decision was made to repair academic buildings before administrative ones.
Disaster preparedness plans have also improved at Stanford Medical Center. If a major earthquake hits the Palo Alto area tomorrow, 25 pagers within Stanford Hospital would go off simultaneously. Extra nurses for triage and physicians for treatment immediately would be dispatched to the emergency room. Extra security guards would immediately throw up barricades around the emergency room to help control the flow of people.
The hospital holds two disaster drills a year. In one, the hospital staff deals with a make-believe catastrophe like part of the building collapsing. In the other, the staff figures out how to deal with a great influx of emergency patients.
The hospital held a drill just before the World Cup soccer games this summer. Then, the make-believe scenario was a bloody riot.
"We treated 50 'patients' within an hour," Per Schenck said of the drill. Procedures which can normally take two hours were completed in 20-30 minutes, said Schenck, the disaster preparedness coordinator at Stanford Hospital.
Structurally, Palo Alto fared much better than Stanford and most cities in 1989, said Fred Herman, chief building official for the city.
He noted that very few new codes were implemented as a result of the Loma Prieta earthquake. But within the next two to three years the state will pass tougher building codes because of the earthquake in Northridge.
One of the questions raised in the past five years is how to improve steel frames on large buildings. Currently welding them together is the common practice for strength, but because many of these kind of buildings have been damaged in these quakes, people are scrambling for a better way to reinforce the steel frames.
Herman said people can reinforce masonry buildings, but that may not prevent damage. It should keep them from falling down, but it does not mean they won't have enough damage to be condemned.
"The minimum code for (unreinforced masonry buildings) is if they don't collapse and kill somebody, then they are up to code," said Herman, who also serves on the Seismic Safety Board in California. "It is just hard to explain that to someone who has $30,000 in damage to their home or building."
He suggests that while building, or reinforcing existing buildings, people do more then what the code asks for, because the codes are just a minimum standard.
Jeff Israely contributed to this story.
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