As Southern California rattles, is San Jose ready for ‘the big one’?

Southern California was hit with two powerful earthquakes last week, serving as a potent reminder that it’s just a matter of time before “the big one” strikes the Bay Area too.

Is the South Bay ready?

“In our field we can’t urge people enough to be prepared,” said Louay Toma, program specialist with the County of Santa Clara Emergency Management. “When things don’t happen, it creates a lull.”

Based on research collected since the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, scientists are predicting that there is a 70 percent chance that an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.7 or higher will strike the Bay Area before 2030 and cause widespread damage.

San Jose is sandwiched between the San Andreas and Hayward faults. Both are capable of producing substantial earthquakes and each have been classified as “overdue” for another rupture based on the average length of time between their respective quakes.

After the 2017 Coyote Creek Flood forced thousands of residents to evacuate and dealt millions of dollars in property damage to San Jose, the city has been working to bolster its emergency preparedness efforts.

“We had to improve our own emergency management,” said San Jose’s Emergency Services Director Ray Riordan, who took the job a month after the flooding in early 2017, replacing the former director who had left the position the prior year.

In a special report, the city concluded 140 items it needed to address in regard to emergency preparedness, Riordan said, adding that earthquake preparedness was a key component of that. In February, the city approved an updated Emergency Operation Plan which had not been formally adopted since 2004.

It also revived an Emergency Services Council that had not met since the early 2000s as well.

The group is comprised of city staff and representatives from emergency-minded nonprofits, and they expect to meet every 18 months or so to approve or update emergency plans.

One key component of disaster preparedness involves communication. Santa Clara County residents are encouraged to sign up to receive alerts at AlertSCC.

When flooding concerns lingered in February, Riordan said his team got messages out to more than 20,000 area residents.

The city is now working on a variety of emergency measures specific to earthquakes.

A portion of Measure T funds are allocated for bolstering bridges and other infrastructure in need of retrofits. The measure also grants funding for three new fire stations and a new emergency operations center which will house collaborating first responders in the wake of a disaster. On the technology side, San Jose is working to enhance communication channels to make them more likely to hold up in the event of an earthquake or other emergency.

The city is also working on a “soft story” program to address structures that are vulnerable to collapse because they sit on a garage or parking stalls that don’t provide enough support. Riordan said the city is also working on securing grants that will fund such soft story retrofits.

In addition to the city’s efforts, Riordan said there’s plenty of things residents can do to prepare for the next earthquake or another disaster, such as getting a plan together with their families and loading up on supplies.

“Most people underestimate the amount of food and water they’re going to need,” said Riordan.

Think one gallon of water, Riordan said, per person per day.

To help residents get started on the overwhelming task of emergency preparedness, the county created a 12-month emergency plan on its website to help break down the items into simple, once-a-month to-dos.

Contact Carina Woudenberg at carinaw86@gmail.com or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

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