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Quake '98 Drill Helps Campus Plan for Disaster

by Robert Sanders, Public Affairs
posted July 15, 1998

For some 70 managers and director-level staff, June 4 turned out to be a disaster. Literally.

That was the day Berkeley held its first disaster drill in recent memory, dubbed Quake '98, to test its emergency response team in a simulated crisis.

At 9 a.m. the first calls came into the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in the basement of Sproul Hall reporting a 7.0-magnitude quake. Several buildings had collapsed in the temblor. One building was on fire, a chemical spill forced evacuation of another, and poisonous snakes had escaped in still another. Power was out all over campus. Two deaths were reported and hundreds of people were injured.

To top it off, former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali was reportedly in one of the buildings when it was engulfed in flames.

The EOC, a low-ceilinged room outfitted with emergency power, phone lines, wall-mounted maps of the campus and white boards for keeping track of a crisis -- quickly became a beehive of activity. Just as quickly its air grew hot and humid.

Police Chief Victoria Harrison took charge as EOC manager, and for two hours juggled incoming information, consulted with the heads of the various response teams and handed down decisions.

"This is an exercise and the purpose is to learn, and I think we did," Harrison said at a post-mortem. "What impressed me was how calm and focused everyone was."

The goal, said Tom Klatt, manager of emergency preparedness, was to test the emergency response team in a realistic setting, so that all team members know what to do during a real emergency.

"We want this to be real," he said. "The team must think about the choices that need to be made during an emergency, and they all need to pull together. I think they did that, and were well organized."

The phone and radio messages coming into the EOC originated from a room on the third floor of Sproul, where a team of two dozen experienced emergency responders kept the pressure on. They also responded to requests for resources from the EOC, and even fielded a fake CNN reporter and cameraman.

Following the two-hour disaster drill, the team gave itself good marks for performance. Nevertheless, several areas were judged to need improvement, ranging from more streamlined message handling to a larger, better ventilated room.

Klatt was hired a year ago to plan such a drill and the six months of training that led up to it. Beginning in January, staff from across campus -- the police department, health services, the budget and finance offices, physical resources and planning, public information and telecommunications, among others -- met regularly to discuss the organization of the EOC and how team members would interact with one another and the outside world.

Aided by outside trainer Jan Decker, an emergency management specialist, the diverse group slowly melded into a coherent team that proved it could handle a crisis.

The June 4 exercise and an active emergency plan are goals of the SAFER program, instituted last October after a seismic review of campus buildings catalogued more than $1 billion worth of necessary earthquake retrofitting. While the campus scrambles for the money to complete these repairs, a well-designed disaster plan is essential, Klatt said.

"A cohesive, effective and efficient plan is crucial to keeping UC Berkeley functioning after a major disaster, whether it is an earthquake, a fire or whatever," he said.

Klatt said more such exercises are planned, involving various response groups, from the Chancellor-level policy group to field operations teams. Look for Quake '99 and Quake 2000!

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