Story and photos by Clay McGlaughlin/The Times-Standard
05/13/2012 02:36:23 AM PDT
When the Oct. 17, 1989, Loma Prieta earthquake struck, Judith Warren was “half in and half out of a dress” in one of the changing rooms at the Emporium-Capwell in San Jose. The magnitude 6.9 quake lasted for 10-15 seconds, knocking out electricity and toppling the walls of the changing room. When it was over, Warren found herself alone and trapped in the dark as she called for help and struggled to get out.
”It made me realize that what I thought was ‘being prepared’ really wasn’t being prepared,” said Warren, who has been involved with various aspects of disaster preparedness since 1980. “My flashlight rolled out of my purse when the changing room fell over, and none of the emergency lights came on. I tried for the better part of three hours to get somebody to pay attention to me and help get me out, but there was no one near by. My voice was being drowned out by wailing from people trapped on the floors above. It took me three hours to fight my way outside, and when I finally got to my car the first responders were just starting to arrive.”
It took her another four hours on the road to drive the 12 miles back to her house.
”At that point I realized that the kit I had in my car was simply not adequate if I hadn’t been able to make it home,” she said.
The experience convinced her that she couldn’t rely on outside help in an emergency. She began compiling information independently and adding supplies
to disaster kits for her home, office and car. She now carries an emergency flashlight on a large keyring that can’t roll away, as well as a piercing whistle loud enough to attract attention even in the chaos of a disaster’s aftermath.
Warren moved to Humboldt County with her elderly mother in 2002 for the “benign climate, with no smog, in a beautiful setting of forests, mountains, rivers and the ocean.” She said she feels safer here on several levels due to lower crime rates, less traffic and pollution, and a stronger sense of community, but she is still concerned about the earthquake and tsunami hazards of the region.
That’s why, in March 2011, she formed the Regional Training Institute for Disaster Preparedness with Linda Nellist and Judy Sears, both of whom have worked in emergency management and community disaster preparedness for many years as well. The institute is a collaboration with the Office of Extended Education at Humboldt State University, and it offers Community Emergency Response Team training; classes in disaster kit preparation, food safety and managing water supplies; and courses for businesses and whole neighborhoods that want to take pre-emptive steps to mitigate the effects of natural disasters. Warren said the classes teach not only about the region’s earthquake and tsunami hazards, but also detail a seven-step plan that suggests ways for people to mitigate those hazards, save lives, reduce injuries and recover more quickly after disasters.
”I think we have a responsibility to not just expect the government to come in and bail us out,” said Warren. “We’ve got to all do our part, and that starts with training. Knowledge is power, and knowledge in advance allows for preparation. … We have a wonderful opportunity to get ready and make our communities more resilient to get through the disasters that we know inevitably will be coming our way. We at the institute are trying to provide tools for people to get that kind of knowledge.”