Peninsula residents who felt small jolts from earthquakes originating in the East Bay and in San Benito County this week may have gotten a small taste of what it might have been like to experience the Loma Prieta earthquake that shook the Bay Area 30 years ago today. 

The magnitude 4.5 quake in the East Bay and the magnitude 4.7 event in central California logged this week didn’t come near the destruction caused by the magnitude 6.9 earthquake that killed dozens and caused major destruction Oct. 17, 1989. But the tremors did spark reflections on how an event of that scale would play out today for Kevin Rose, Office of Emergency Services manager within the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office. 

Rose acknowledged the role platforms like social media and text messaging have come to play in sharing information with residents in a disaster, and noted many of those technologies were not available 30 years ago during the Loma Prieta earthquake. Though quick dissemination of information is possible with new technologies, Rose gave a nod to tried-and-true tools like radios and landlines, which can offer more reliable communication in a disaster’s wake. 

“New technology, as advanced as it has become, and as important as it has become … don’t forget your own common-sense rudimentary tools,” he said.

Cynthia Pridmore, engineering geologist with the California Geological Survey, a division of the Department of Conservation, explained earthquakes reaching a magnitude 4 are not expected to cause damage but noted they can be felt strongly at their epicenters. Because the faults affecting Bay Area residents and those who felt the two quakes this week are lengthy, they have the potential to have a significant impact on those who live near them, she said. 

Situated in a zone between plates, much of the state is prone to experiencing stresses, explained Pridmore. 

“It’s pretty much the general background to have these light earthquakes,” she said. “It’s not really helping us and it’s not really telling us something bigger is coming.”  

With more than 100,000 subscribers, the county’s SMC Alert notification system is likely to be the first to spread the word about incidents of fire and law enforcement activity and vetted information in the event of a larger disaster, said Rose. And while he acknowledged the benefits of the countywide system, he noted the devices many receive the notifications on rely on chargers for power. Rose encouraged those interested in preparing for the “next big one” to think “retro” and invest in battery-powered radios and landlines, which are more likely to be functional if an earthquake hits. 

“Cellphone technology is going to be spotty at best during an earthquake,” he said. “[With] landlines, you will most likely have a better opportunity for communication.”  

Rose also said residents are encouraged to build emergency kits equipped with plenty of water and basic first aid supplies, among several other items, but noted putting an extra pair of shoes and a flashlight under one’s bed is an easy step many residents can take today if they haven’t already. He also advocated for residents to keep cash in small denominations on hand and talk to their doctors about 60-day or 90-day prescriptions to see whether they can create a cache of essential medications they can use in case of a disaster. 

Jason Ballmann, spokesman for the University of Southern California’s Southern California Earthquake Center, agreed that earthquake preparedness is a lot easier than many think it is. He said equipping themselves with one gallon of water per person per day for up to two weeks is one easy step they can take to prepare, and also suggested they participate Thursday morning in the Great California ShakeOut, an international annual drill which happened to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake this year. 

By practicing to drop, cover and hold on, residents can practice how to react when the ground shakes at their workplaces and schools, said Ballmann. He also challenged California residents to rethink their assumptions that their loved ones and friends are a phone call or text away, and encouraged them to consider who they would rely on and work with to overcome the many obstacles that would accompany a major disaster. 

“When that fabric breaks, it makes the response and recovery from incidents like this even harder,” he said. “How do you build these relationships now?” 

The Great California ShakeOut will take place Oct. 17 at 10:17 a.m. Visit smcready.org to register for San Mateo County’s alert notification system. Visit smcfire.org/emergency-preparedness-resources and conservation.ca.gov/cgs/Pages/Earthquakes/qh_earthquakes_what.aspx for tips on how to prepare for a disaster. 

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