Volunteers know Loma Prieta 'just a precursor'
By Lou Fancher
Although he doesn't expect a locomotive to come crashing through his living room, Rossmoor resident Dick DuBey does expect the Hayward Fault to someday "let go."
Recalling the feeling he experienced 25 years ago while crouched beneath his office desk in San Leandro during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, DuBey said it was like standing 10 feet from the thunderous roar and trembling ground of a passing steam train.
"To this day, I will always remember the ground wave passing under the building. The cement floor and the tile covering on it actually heaved and undulated about 4 to 6 inches. Then amazingly, everything subsided. The silence was almost deafening," he said.
But what happened in the hours, days and months afterward was clamorous.
Outside, power lines swung wildly, snapping and sparking. Soon, using a portable generator, DuBey powered a small television and learned the elevated portion of the Cypress Structure on Highway 880 and the upper section of the Bay Bridge had collapsed. He felt a chill -- 30 minutes before the earthquake, he'd been on the Bay Bridge, returning from an appointment in San Francisco. He said fires and failing water mains in the Marina district in San Francisco brought to mind the specter of 1906, when the city burned to the ground.
In the days following, reports of residents muscling heavy fire hoses from a fire boat in the marina and using them to douse flames made him proud. With the safe return of his wife and daughter and minimal damage to his Walnut Creek home on Overlook Drive, DuBey found East Bay heroes in his neighborhood.
James House was in the living room of his home just off First Avenue in Walnut Creek when the quake hit. Preparing to watch the third game of the 1989 World Series between the Oakland A's and the San Francisco Giants, he instead found himself diving to the floor.
"I got down on the floor between the couch and the coffee table, for all the good that would have done," he wrote in an email.
When the shaking stopped, House was unsure what the road conditions would be so he walked to the consolidated fire dispatch center on Geary Road -- his response site as a member of an Amateur Radio Emergency Services group. Ham radio operators who become emergency communication volunteers agree to participate in specialized training and to provide support services during emergencies.
Most of the damage in the Central County area, House soon discovered, was related to water, gas and electric utilities. With the Fire Department unable to phone Pacific Gas & Electric, House and his fellow ham radio operators became liaisons. Working in shifts, they related gas leaks and reported transformer fires among public service agencies, a critical service in the hard-to-imagine pre-cellphone era.
In Pleasant Hill, Lew Jenkins was riding the early wave of Internet exploration, but during the earthquake, he stuck to his radio man roots. Checking his ham radio bulletin board system, he was on the air 20 minutes after the shaking stopped. With messages coming in from all over the world, he fielded about 13,000 emails in three days, mostly from people wanting to find out if their friends and family were OK.
"Ham radio works. No matter how bad it is, someone is available," Jenkins said in an interview in 2013.
DuBey served as the training coordinator in Walnut Creek's six-year-old Community Emergency Response Team program, and after a recent nine-month "sabbatical," he remains involved. He said Neighborhood Watch and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have done a good job getting the word out about being prepared and information about how to respond to catastrophic events is easy to access. CERT's recent efforts have been focused on organizational diversification into home care facility emergency response and "Teen CERT," but DuBey said, "The Loma Prieta event is always on the front burner with us, as we are aware that this quake was just a precursor."