What We've Learned

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 (Arrietta Chakos)

We were not prepared when the quake struck. Watsonville, Santa Cruz, Oakland and San Francisco were overwhelmed.

Cities scrambled to respond as seismic waves rolled under the Bay. A section of the Bay Bridge collapsed. Buildings burned. Oakland's Cypress Freeway pancaked, killing 42. Americans witnessed a major urban earthquake on live TV.

It was a galvanizing reminder about life on California's unstable edge. But 25 years later, the August quake shows that things are different.

Communities responded quickly and skillfully. Emergency centers coordinated help in the hardest-hit areas. Community officials coordinated deftly with state counter-parts. People checked on their neighborhoods, using emergency training techniques.

Since 1989, we've seen that disaster preparedness trainings pay off; home retrofits do work. Although more than 200 were injured in August, only one life was lost.  


We know now that every dollar invested in readiness before the next disaster reduces suffering and speeds community recovery.

Bay Area voters have approved $25 billion in safety measures to improve water systems, BART and public buildings. We've rebuilt schools, fire stations, hospitals, city halls and roadways.

Despite these successes, though, we need to do more to rebuild better.

We can secure chimneys, finish retrofits on brick building, use gas shut-off valves and make  sure building codes require safer standards for homes and apartment buildings.

We need disaster-resilient utility systems.

Finally, let's make sure that seniors, undocumented residents and working class neighbors have a real safety net when disasters hit.  

Years of rebuilding lie ahead.  Let's start now to build a safer, more resilient future for the Bay Area.

With a Perspective, I'm Arrietta Chakos.

Arrietta Chakos is a former Berkeley assistant city manager now working as a public policy advisor on urban resilience.