Last week disaster struck. At 6:24 p.m., Sept. 9, a natural-gas pipe exploded, engulfing a San Bruno neighborhood in flames, injuring more than 50 people, killing at least four and destroying 37 homes. In the wake of the conflagration, people from all over the Bay Area may be asking themselves what they would do in the event of an emergency. According to Mountain View emergency officials, it is a question everybody should be asking.
"It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when," said Jaime Garrett, a spokeswoman for the Mountain View Fire Department.
Garrett noted that the gas line rupture in San Bruno was an anomaly, but said that anyone living in California ought to be prepared in case of a significant seismic event. "We live in earthquake country, and, chances are, something will happen within our lifetime."
Garrett recommends setting aside several caches of survival supplies in multiple locations — at home, at work and in the car, for example — anywhere a person might find themselves for an extended period of time during an emergency. These supply kits should contain food, water, a first aid kit, flashlights, extra clothing, cash and other essentials.
"We encourage you to have a little bit of stuff in a lot of different places," Garrett said.
Being ready also involves establishing a meeting place family meeting place. For some families with a small-scale emergency, that meeting place might be as close as the backyard, Garrett said. However, it is also a good idea to be prepared for a larger scale emergency. In the case of a fire covering a wide area, for example, a family might plan on meeting at the home of a relative in another city.
At the very least, people should establish a plan to call a family member living in another city or even out of state. This family member will be able to tell all other family members who is accounted for and who has yet to call.
Immediately following emergencies, it is common for a very large number of people to try to place phone calls at the same time, overloading both land lines and cellular phone towers. This is another reason to establish an out-of-state family spokesperson, as long distance land-line calls use a different network than local calls and are less likely to be clogged in the wake of an emergency. Mobile phone users can avoid busy signals by communicating via text message or SMS, Garrett said,.
In an emergency, time is of the essence. Garrett said that Mountain View residents have many options for receiving electronic emergency alerts. There is AlertSCC.com, where residents can sign up for automated alerts on their land lines, cell phones and e-mail accounts. The Mountain View Fire Department also has Facebook and Twitter accounts, where emergency information would be posted.
Information would also be available on local radio and television — KFFH 87.9 FM and KMVP Channel 15.
Garrett said fire officials doesn't want Mountain View residents to worry unnecessarily about the prospect of a gas fire, like the one that devastated the Crestmoor neighborhood in San Bruno. However, if residents notice a persistent gas smell, she said it is a good idea to notify the fire department.
Passing odors are one thing, Garrett said, but "if you smell something inside or outside of your home and you walk into another room and you continue to smell it, we would want you to call."
In the event of an earthquake, she added, residents should keep their noses in the air and shut off gas lines to their homes if they smell anything suspicious.
September is National Preparedness Month. The federal government has set up a website, Ready.gov, where anyone can go to learn more about how to prepare for emergencies. And, according to Garrett, being ready is the name of the game.
"The best thing you can do is be prepared for any emergency," she said, "whether it be an earthquake, flood or fire."