OAKLAND -- The magnitude-6.9 quake off the coast of Eureka on March 9 and a 4.4 temblor that rattled Los Angeles on March 17 are timely reminders to check in on family and citywide emergency preparedness and evacuation plans.
Communities of Oakland Respond to Emergencies (CORE), a division of the Oakland Fire Department, offers free ongoing training to neighborhood groups and individuals on what people can do to prepare for an earthquake, fire, flood or chemical accident -- and what they can do if disaster strikes.
"On April 29, we are having our Citywide Response Exercise when neighborhood groups practice disaster response and recovery skills, as well as home and family preparedness," said Dena Gunning, CORE's program coordinator. "We have more than 100 groups taking part."
A CORE Citywide Exercise Skills Workshop is also slated for Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Gunning says CORE's mission is threefold: to help neighborhoods and individuals prepare for emergency with contingency plans and supplies; to help people practice emergency response skills; and to keep people engaged with their local CORE group through volunteering and sharing of information.
"If you're prepared, then you're also prepared to help other people in your neighborhood, whether it's in day-to-day events or a larger disaster such as a fire or earthquake," Gunning said. "We also cover what to do if you are at the coast and a tsunami warning is issued."
CORE offers basic training classes at schools and recreation centers -- they recently taught a class to members of the North Hills Neighborhood Association -- and at OFD training headquarters at 250 Victory Court. There are also advanced workshops for those who have completed CORE basic training such as "Disaster First Aid," "Neighborhood Organization" and "Two-way Radio."
Kathy Eide, assistant manager in the Fire Department's Emergency Management Services Division (EMSD), said emergency response and evacuation plans are not set in stone.
"Each event determines the specific response," Eide said. "The incident commander makes the final decision on emergency response, based on information from the fire and police departments, as well as helicopter surveillance and local HAM radio operators."
She says that, while EMSD has plans and escape routes in place in the event of emergency or evacuation, the plans are protected by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
"Specific routes and plans are not public information," Eide said. "People are often confused and panicked during an event and might take a wrong route that leads them into the area of danger. Response and evacuation depend on the nature of the specific event."
She said that many neighborhood groups have "great plans" in place, such as designated assembly points where people can await direction from police and OFD, designated roles to play during the disaster, and evacuation guidelines. EMSD is also prepared to disseminate information to the public.
"Once we make the determination of what's going on, we push out that information to the public via the city's website (www2.oaklandnet.com), its radio station (AM 530) and its TV channel (KTOP TV-10)," Eide said.
"In a specific neighborhood that has to be evacuated, we go door-to-door and use reverse 911 calls to alert people."
Eide said that evacuation is only initiated when absolutely necessary.
"We like shelter-in-place a lot and only evacuate when we absolutely have to," Eide said.
Chris Burgardt, a Fremont firefighter and member of the Redwood Heights Neighborhood Association (RHNA), would like to see his neighbors be more active in CORE. He's passionate about being prepared for an emergency.
Twenty years ago he was in college, on the path to a job in the corporate world, when natural disasters changed his life.
"I was in downtown Oakland when the Loma Prieta quake struck in 1989, I was in Boston during Hurricane Bob in 1991 and my family's home burned down in the Oakland hills fire of 1991," Burgardt said. "I decided I wanted to work in disaster response and eventually became a firefighter."
Burgardt taught a five-week CORE class at Redwood Heights Elementary School this past January, which was attended by about 20 residents and will be presented annually.
"The school will be overwhelmed in the event of a disaster during school hours," said Burgardt, whose 5-year-old daughter attends the school. "While parents try to get home from work in San Francisco, the school will be responsible for sheltering hundreds of kids and having supplies on hand such as food and water."
He said many RHNA members want to focus more on Neighborhood Alert and crime prevention, especially at nearby McCrea Memorial Park, where drug use and prostitution have been a problem, but he'd like neighbors to also be prepared for natural disasters.
"Some people don't think about disaster preparedness, even though we're living on top of the Hayward Fault, but I think about it every day," Burgardt said. "We're in a marathon, we don't know if we are one day or 20 years away from the finish line."
His goal is to get more neighbors trained through CORE to help people protect their families and neighbors.
In the event of a major disaster, he said, families will likely have to cope on their own for the first 48 to 72 hours, until help arrives.
"It's not a city management thing, it's just realistic," Burgardt said.
"You can't have a fire engine or an ambulance at everybody's house, it exceeds the capabilities of any organization."
He said that's where CORE training comes into play.
"If you're prepared for an earthquake, you're prepared for almost anything that can happen," he said. "Earthquakes give no notice, so it's the worst-case scenario."