Uncommon knowledge, news, and opinion

Uncommon knowledge, news, and opinion

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Today, Nov. 9 at 2 p.m.:the first nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System

November 9, 2011 at 9:17 am By Roz Potter

From FEMA and the FCC:

As part of their ongoing efforts to keep our country and communities safe during emergencies, the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Emergency Management Agency will conduct the first nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS).

The EAS test plays a key role in ensuring the nation is prepared for all hazards, and that the U.S. public can receive critical and vital information, should it ever be needed.

The first nationwide test will be conducted today, November 9 at 2 p.m. eastern. This test will last about 30 seconds, and will be transmitted via television and radio stations within the U.S., including Alaska, Hawaii, the territories of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa.

Similar to local emergency alert system tests, an audio message will interrupt television and radio programming indicating: “This is a test.” When the test is over, regular programming will resume. For more information about the nationwide Emergency Alert System test, please visit www.FEMA.gov and www.FCC.gov.

During this exercise, please remember: Don’t stress; it’s only a test.

Hayward Fault rumbles Berkeley – again

October 27, 2011 at 9:08 pm By Roz Potter

In the past 7 days, Berkeley has been shaken by earthquakes larger than 3.5 magnitude three times. Today’s quake was a minor temblor, registering only 3.6 magnitude, but that is only part of the story. The Hayward Fault is the other part.

Homes, mass transit corridors, major freeways and roadways intersect the Hayward Fault at many locations. It is crossed by many critical water and gas pipelines, and electrical transmission lines. It begins near San Jose and winds its way northward through Santa Clara,  Alameda and part of Contra Costa County to San Pablo Bay.

California has a 99% chance of having at least one magnitude 6.7 or greater quake anytime in the next 30 years. For the S.F. Bay Area, the risk is 63%. And of all the faults in the S. F. Bay Area, the risk is highest for the Hayward/Rodgers Creek Faults.

The Hayward Fault has not ruptured since 1868, 142 years ago, in case you’re counting, and if you live in the Bay Area, you should be. The average period between the last 5 major quakes on the Hayward Fault  is 138 years.

Pressures in the Hayward Fault have been building unabated, since 1868. Similar pressures in the San Andreas Fault were at least partially relieved by the 1906 San Francisco quake, and to a small extent by the 1989 Loma Prieta. There has been no relief for the Hayward.

The 1868 quake was felt as far away as Nevada. There was major damage in Hayward, San Leandro and Fremont, and lesser but significant damage in San Jose, Oakland, Santa Rosa, and San Francisco. Even Napa, yes, that Napa suffered substantial damage from the 1868 quake.

So, residents of Santa Clara, Contra Costa, Alameda, Napa, Marin, Sonoma and other counties, can claim the Hayward as their fault too.  These counties suffered damage in the 1868 quake,  they rely on services that traverse the Hayward Fault, or their residents live, work or commute on or near the Hayward Fault.

Residents of any area could find themselves in double- or triple-trouble. Some regions, like Marin and Sonoma counties have several large fault systems, in these cases the San Andreas and the Rodgers Creek Faults. Alameda County must contend with both the Hayward and the San Andreas faults. All areas have unknown faults, like the one that ruptured in Napa County, CA in 2000, and in Northridge,  CA in 1994. In many cases, seismic waves from one fault rupture transfers to another, extending damage over a wider area than expected.

Ready? If not, here are some tips.

1. Your family may not be together when an earthquake strikes. They may not be able to get home

Complete a communication plan for emergencies and disasters and keep copies at home, work  and in your car. Have wallet size versions with the most essential information for each family member. The plan should include emergency contacts, both local and out of state. When family members call the contact they should advise their exact location, whether injured or in need of help or not , and where they are going.

Teach each family member to text. Text messages get transmitted more readily than voice transmissions.

Telephones with transformers require electricity to work. This includes cordless phones and many business or advanced feature phones. Have at least one old-fashioned, no bells or whistles, plug in telephone at home, work, and hopefully, schools.

2. Essential services (water, electricity, trash service, sewage treatment plants, transportation and some roadways) may be inoperable for days to weeks. If transportation is disrupted, store shelves cannot be stocked. If electricity is out, ATMs, gas pumps, cash registers, and water pumps won’t work.

This will be more than an inconvenience for those who rely on oxygen concentrators, insulin and other drugs that require refrigeration, or those who don’t store extra water, baby formula or other essentials.

Store cash, water, food, medicines, baby formula, a solar or battery powered radio and extra batteries, first-aid and medical supplies and alternative light and heat sources in sufficient quantities to supply essentials to household members. Supplies must include at least 1 gallon of water per day for each person and pet – a 3 day supply is minimal, a two week supply may not be enough. If possible, store extra supplies to help out neighbors, friends and family who will be caught unprepared.

3. Expert help (police, fire, medical, nursing, pharmacies, utilities, ambulance) could be delayed, inaccessible, or unavailable for hours, days or weeks.

Stock  first aid supplies and a manual (available at the Red Cross, Amazon and bookstores) in your home. Take a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) course, available in most communities, and a First Aid class. Have fully charged ABC-type fire extinguishers on every level of your home in addition to the kitchen and garage. Reach out to people in your neighborhood with special needs; the frail elderly, those with sight or hearing loss, in wheelchairs, with language barriers, or other needs who will require extra help in an emergency or disaster.

Before a disaster strikes, know how your community will respond. Where will emergency treatment locations be set up?  Is there a local emergency warning system? Are there experts in your neighborhood that would be willing to help you with specific needs, such as carpentry, nursing, medical? What is your EAS (Emergency Alert Station) for your area? For San Francisco Bay Area counties, it is KCBS, 740 on the AM dial.

Berkeley has given us three wake-up calls in 7 days.  One day, a small earthquake like those of the past week could herald in the “Big One”.  Get ready while there is still time.

PG&E could have “junked” pipe in its gas pipeline system

October 21, 2011 at 12:57 am By Roz Potter

From the SF Chronicle:  Link


State regulators have uncovered evidence that suggests Pacific Gas and Electric Co. installed “salvaged or junked transmission pipe” on its natural-gas system in the 1940s and ’50s, raising fears that a problem like the one that caused the San Bruno disaster could be lurking undetected, officials said in a regulatory filing Wednesday.

The California Public Utilities Commission’s investigation of PG&E’s record-keeping problems before the September 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people has uncovered “documents that appear to demonstrate PG&E’s historic reuse of salvaged or junked transmission pipe,” according to the filing by commission attorney Robert Cagen.

“These documents clearly raise serious safety concerns,” Cagen wrote.

Evidence under wraps

His filing did not specify which of the 90,000 documents that PG&E has given to commission investigators indicated the use of salvaged transmission pipe. Cagen wrote that investigators want to release the documents, but that PG&E has made a blanket assertion of confidentiality for much of what it has handed to the state.


Cagen suggested in his filing that regulators have found other “documents demonstrating that PG&E has accepted known poor and marginal welds, and then placed pipes with these poor or marginal welds into service” on the Peninsula pipeline, known as Line 132.

“Indeed, the NTSB determined that PG&E was aware as early as 1948 that it had placed transmission pipes into service on Line 132 with poor welds in them,” Cagen wrote.

He said he is seeking a “blanket rule favoring disclosure” of PG&E’s documents to “facilitate faster sharing of information in order to meet immediate public safety concerns.”

Hands-On Preparedness Workshop: Build-Your-Own 3 day Emergency (“Go”) Bags & Family Disaster Plan

September 29, 2011 at 10:55 pm By Roz Potter

Preparedness. You’ve thought about it, and even bought a thing or two. Here’s your chance to get a big part of the job done.

In one day, for 6 hours, in one place, you’ll find an array of the supplies, equipment, instruction, demonstrations, and documents needed to get your household ready for serious emergencies.

Through live demonstrations you’ll learn how to store and disinfect water, handle utility emergencies, use safety, self-defense, and communication devices, and select worthwhile supplies and equipment for disaster essentials such as lighting, communications, and sanitation.

We’ll disassemble several ready-made “Go”Bags and first-aid kits so you can see the quality and contents for yourself. And, we’ll provide supply lists and and have basic contents available for 3-day “Go” Bags you can build for home, work, car and school, for yourself, family members and for gifts. A limited number of  “Go” Bags will be available to purchase

Food, first-aid and hygiene packs, light sources, radios and other communication devices, water storage containers and water purification items, sanitation, self-defense and other equipment, along with carriers, will be on-hand

Put together your own disaster plan so you can easily contact and reunite family members, locate emergency services, communicate with advisers, turn off utilities, access critical records and items, and obtain safe medical care, when options are limited

Saturday, November 12, 2011, from 10 am to 4 pm, The John Muir Inn, Napa, CA

$60 fee includes 2.5 hours of disaster preparedness instruction, Defying Disaster’s preparedness documents including communication, reunification, utility emergency and pet plans,  and emergency medical information forms, 3-day “Go” Bag supply lists for home, car, school and work, demonstrations, and a Defying Disaster Daypack

Advance reservations required. To reserve a space, send $30 deposit and contact information to Defying Disaster, P.O. Box 5927, Napa, CA 94581. For further information, please call 707.255.7146 or use the form on this website’s “Contact” page. Some partial scholarships are available

Space is limited.  A second workshop will be held December 3, 10-4, also at the John Muir Inn

“Contagion”: popularizing good science and educating the populace

September 5, 2011 at 8:46 am By Roz Potter

From Salon.com:  Link


In Steven Soderbergh’s upcoming disaster film “Contagion,” no one — not even Gwyneth Paltrow — is safe from a pandemic virus that kills quickly and leaves mass frenzy in its wake.

We’d all like to hope that the film’s scenario is mere fantasy, calculated to give brave moviegoers a decisive end-of-summer thrill. But as Dr. Ian Lipkin, who balanced a consultative role on the movie with his responsibilities as director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia and co-chair of the National Biosurveillance Advisory Subcommittee, tells Salon, these things are unpredictable, and “Contagion’s” plot is far from implausible. Indeed, Soderbergh and “Contagion” screenwriter Scott Burns went out of their way to make the movie “ultrarealistic.”

In a phone interview, Dr. Lipkin described his own role in the film — and his hopes that the project will ultimately not only entertain, but also inspire, advocate and inform.

What follows is an edited and condensed transcript of our conversation.  See Link to read more.

Virginia Earthquake Links

August 23, 2011 at 4:40 pm By Roz Potter

I’ll be adding to these view-worthy links: (Updated)

USGS report   Link

Politico report on nuclear reactor shutdowns,  Link

International Business Times report with graphics, Link

Discover Magazine’s  seismic wave animation  Link

Richmond, Virginia Times Dispatch – a local view , Link

NPR, Link

CBS News,  Link

The Guardian, “What the east coast earthquake means to US Nuclear Plants”,  Link

“Excuse Me, but Catastrophe Looms”

August 18, 2011 at 8:06 pm By Roz Potter

From The Tyee, in British Columbia,  Link


After months of hand-wringing, I am authorized to report that North America has moved beyond the pall of doom and gloom to a more pleasant oblivion.

The earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters in Japan are all behind us now. No need to fret any further about the ugliness of natural disasters.

In the aftermath of this megathrust nightmare, we progressed briskly from a “teachable moment” through “disaster fatigue” to more important matters, like the royal wedding and who might replace Charlie Sheen as TV’s highest paid actor. What a relief to forget plate tectonics again.

In my recent (and thankfully transient) role as Harbinger of Doom, I had the unhappy task of warning people that a tectonic event just like the one in Japan (and in Sumatra before that) will — beyond any reasonable scientific doubt — hit the West Coast of North America. Same mega-quake. Same mega-tsunami. For the gory details, just Google the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

My book Cascadia’s Fault — The Deadly Earthquake That Will Devastate North America was published this spring, with the intention to wake people up in time to be safer and more resilient when the Big One hits.

But other than a few respectful book reviews, the reaction has been weirdly muted, as if people would rather not be bothered with an opportunity to save lives, even, very possibly, their own.


At first glance Cascadia’s threat might seem like a “regional” concern — which is code for saying “it’s just those wacky West Coasters getting all hyperbolic on us again.” But actually, it’s not.

Imagine five major cities — Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle, Portland and Sacramento, with dozens of smaller towns and villages in between — slammed all at once by the same earthquake. With tsunami wave damage across the entire Pacific Rim — from Hawaii and Alaska to Japan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand. Disaster on a scale so overwhelming that nothing in our history can serve as a reference point.


Get real, and prepare

When friends ask what it’s like being the bearer of so much dismal news, I say: “Honestly? I hate it. I just wish it would all go away.” Do you remember when Cher slapped Nicholas Cage in “Moonstruck” and told him to “Snap out of it!”? That’s what we should do about Cascadia’s fault. Snap right out of this depressing darkness and live in the moment. Whatever happens, happens. Right?

Perhaps Hollywood should make a movie of it. That would be a lot more fun. Think of how cool it would be to see five modern cities knee-deep in bricks and broken glass. Tall buildings and bridges collapsing, dams bursting. The special effects would be spectacular, especially when the tsunami starts washing away coastal towns from Canada to California.

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