The Big One: Urban Shield Preps For Major Earthquake in the Bay Area

As part of a controversial Urban Shield program, hundreds of emergency personnel and volunteers throughout the Bay Area took part in a massive earthquake drill Thursday.

With major earthquakes rattling Japan and Fiji in the past 48 hours, the training couldn’t come at a better time, seismologists say.

In Fremont, cots were sitting empty and mock patients downed make-believe pills. It was just a taste of what the aftermath would be if a devastating earthquake hits the Bay Area.

Jose Alvarez of Castro Valley is one of 150 people who took part in Fremont’s Urban Shield Yellow Command earthquake scenario.

"This is just a tiny, tiny practice exercise for the real thing," Alvarez said. "We’re going to have security issues, food shortage, water shortage a lot of people that will be homeless for some time, a long time."

Alex Schubek, Emergency Services manager for the city of Fremont, said the drill was for a magnitude 7.9 earthquake on the San Andres Fault.

"We have roughly 300,000 people that are without shelter; we have 1.5 million people who don’t have water," he said, describing the potential scenario.

Fremont's Centerville Community Center was transformed into an emergency shelter as city employees and volunteers learned how to coordinate care for the masses. For Alvarez, the thought of the real thing was daunting.

"I think we’re very, very underprepared for a major disaster," he said.

Jennifer Strauss of the Berkeley Seismology Lab said it's better for everyone when reacting to a big earthquake or other major disaster becomes muscle memory.

With back-to-back earthquakes rocking Japan and Fiji in the last 48 hours, could the next Ring of Fire tremor strike home?"No," Strauss said. "We have to remember that all of these areas are on the Pacific ring of fire, and so earthquakes are just a fact of life."

Alvarez added: "As a community, as a county, as a city, we should prepare a lot more."

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