Rising From the Ashes: Disaster Recovery

February 6, 2018

On January 23, members and guests of CREW SF gathered for a presentation on disaster preparedness, recovery and resilience featuring architect and lawyer Julia Donoho, AIA, Esq. of Legal Constructs, and David Witkowski, Executive Director of Joint Venture Silicon Valley's Wireless Communications Initiative (WCI), with a guest appearance by Haywired Scenario co-author Anne Wein of the US Geological Survey. Armed with an informative set of slides, Donoho, Witkowski and Wein shared their data and analysis of disaster recovery following the 2017 Sonoma County wildfires and from a potential earthquake on the Hayward Fault.

Wildfire Response, Recovery & Resilience

At the start of her presentation, Donoho confirmed a heartbreaking statistic: Over 6,000 structures were destroyed in the 2017 wildfires in Sonoma County. The fires destroyed communities and neighborhoods, and now residents are tasked with rebuilding. Donoho explained that the recovery process is broken down into three stages: response (a few days), recovery (a few months) and rebuilding (a few years).

For homeowners seeking to rebuild, insurance coverage remains an obstacle. Insurers will only pay to rebuild the home in its exact condition which is on the owner to have documented. With modifications to get up to the current building code, such as sprinkler and energy-efficiency requirements, insurance providers do not cover upgrades to the homes even if they are in lieu of a smaller overall home. In addition, most homeowners have only ever purchased a home and do not have experience with re-building from the ground up. Homeowners must piece together the blueprints – which may have burned in the fire –or for older homes do not exist. The takeaway is to annually review your home and earthquake insurance policies so that your settlement will cover the cost of rebuilding, replacing your belongings and living in temporary housing. Many people are insured to the amount of their mortgage and not to cover re-building costs in the competitive re-building environment of a large-scale disaster. If the worst occurs, negotiate with your insurer. You can likely get more than their first offer for your belongings and home. Have a copy of a video on the interior of your home saved off-site or online including any items that would be difficult to replace.

The HayWired Scenario

Witkowski started the Haywired presentation with a frightening note: There is a 33% chance of a 6.7-magnitude or greater earthquake on the Hayward Fault by the year 2043. Since the fault line runs through a densely populated area in the East Bay, a large quake on the fault could cause significant damage – and displace a great number of residents.

Witkowski shared tips and best practices for managing your digital life during the immediate aftermath of a disaster.

Let others know you are OK, but don’t overload the cellular networks (first responders use the same network):

  • Set your voicemail to say “I’m OK”
  • Post to social media (or ask someone to do it for you)
  • Text, don’t talk
  • Avoid streaming
  • Avoid posting video/images

When seeking info:

  1. Use broadcast radio/TV first
  2. Then, wired internet
  3. Then, cellular internet

Have backup power:

  • Batteries and solar
  • In-car charging cables for cellphones

Avoid using open/public wifi as many natural disaster victims become identity theft victims

  • Have a plan for finding hard-wired internet especially for making payments or sending sensitive information.

To ensure you are prepared in the event of a disaster, Witkowski concluded the presentation with a recommendation of shutting off your home or office’s main breaker for 24 hours and taking notes. You will learn quickly what you need to be prepared when the power goes out.

We hope the information gleaned from this program was helpful and informative. Thank you to all who attended, our sponsor Harbro Emergency Services and Restoration, and to panelists Julia Donoho and David Witkowski and contributor Anne Wein for an excellent presentation!