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Preparedness: Is Rohnert Park Ready for the Next Big Quake?

Scientists say the next large Bay Area earthquake is most likely to crack on the southern part of Rodgers Creek Fault, between Santa Rosa and Petaluma.

Living in earthquake country, there’s one message drilled into our heads from an early age: drop, cover and hold on. People who study earthquakes say that’s still the most important thing to remember.

But in the minutes, days and weeks following a large earthquake, it is equally important to take stock of what you can do individually and what Rohnert Park is doing to be prepared.

Chew on this: Where will your family be? They could be at school, the store, work or driving. Where are your pets? How will medical services, such as 911, be impaired? Do you have a backup plan? What about the roads — what if Highway 101 is gridlocked? Can you live without gas? Water? Phone and Internet? What if banks are shut down?

Rohnert Park public safety officer Aaron Johnson says the has already thought of all this.

“We are prepared and have the capabilities to handle any local natural disaster,” Johnson said. “Whether that’s an earthquake, flooding, fires or building collapses — we have swift water rescue trained personnel, an urban search and rescue team and we work with the community on being prepared.”

The urban search and rescue team is a group of 10 Rohnert Park public safety officers who specialize in low angle rescue, heavy lifting, searching through large masses of rubble and getting into confined spaces to save someone’s life.

“Let’s say today we have a huge earthquake, we’re going to start off with assessing the calls that are coming in, then we’re going to evaluate where the greatest risk is,” Johnson said. “Say it’s Sunday and people are in church, or shopping at Wal Mart or Home Depot — those are the places we’re going to get to first. But let’s say it’s a school day, it would be different.”

Johnson said even though the department doesn’t keep a stock of food and other supplies on hand, it has organized partnerships with local stores, such as Costco, so in an event of a disaster, all their resources will be made available. And, the department trains neighborhood groups and residents in disaster response.

The program, called Community Emergency Response Teams, are deployed at a city level and countywide. However, since budget cutbacks since 2008, Johnson said the department can’t afford to train anyone new.

 “We still have the people who have already been trained in place,” he said.

Johnson said the department is prepared to handle the aftermath without any outside help if need be. Organizations like the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency are in place to deploy aid to communities that are torn apart, but there’s a chance they could run into problems getting help right away.

“Any large scale disaster, like what we saw in and in the Loma Prieta, is going to take all of our resources, and it is going to impact all our surrounding agencies — chances are 101 will be impassable, Petaluma Hill Road will be locked — there’s only three ways north and south,” he said. “But we’re ready for it.“

Rohnert Park’s general plan says in addition to deploying local agencies, like public safety and public works, the city has on the books a partnership with the county Office of Emergency Services.

“The city also participates in periodic city and countywide disaster drills that are held to evaluate and critique emergency service preparedness. The city is prepared to meet the emergency services needs after a worst case earthquake,” the plan states.

"We do take this very seriously," said City Manager Gabe Gonzalez. "We've had [earthquake] drills and developed emergency preparedness plans."

Stay tuned tomorrow for a pocket guide to disaster preparedness on an individual level — we’re creating it for readers to print out and keep handy.

In addition to prepping on a home-by-home, city and county level, national campaigns designed by earthquake study centers are aiming to tackle the importance of being ready for he next big one.

Mark Benthien, the executive director of the Southern California-based Earthquake Country Alliance, and the U.S. Geological Survey have partnered to create a massive awareness movement in places that could crumble in earthquakes, including Rohnert Park.

Shakeout.org is a statewide push to get people at the individual, city, county and state level to participate all together, in one day, in an earthquake drill.

So far, Sonoma County has 43,239 families, schools, government organizations or private businesses that have signed up for the drill, held annually on Oct. 20, at 10:20 a.m. Marin County is slightly lower, at 20,136, Napa has 2,226 sign-ups, San Francisco has 311,977 and Santa Clara has 201,445.

Rohnert Park has two residents signed up, no elementary schools, is a participant, and Windsor is the only town officially signed up.

“The goal is to get people prepared, and to educate them about how to protect themselves during an earthquake,” Benthien said.

The Association of Bay Area Governments, or ABAG, is another organization on the forefront of the campaign to educate people about the dangerous infrastructure.

“We’re working with cities and counties on a regional disaster recovery plan … to look at how we’re going to begin to rebuild after an earthquake,” said Danielle Hutchings, the earthquake and hazards program coordinator for ABAG. “We’re looking at things like how do we get money and distribute it, getting people in shelters, rebuilding, fire and emergency response…”

“We think reacting after a disaster is too late, it’s chaos,” Hutchings said.

Editor's note: This is the fourth of a five-part series.  about how Rohnert Park could be impacted by a major earthquake here. Also, find out if your to the next big one here. Did you know the USGS has an incredible stock of photos of past earthquakes for public use? .

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