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Even a brief closure at UC Berkeley after a major earthquake would mean economic loss for the region
01 May 2000

By Kathleen Maclay , Media Relations

Fact sheet associated with this release

Charts associated with this release

BERKELEY -- If a major earthquake damaged the University of California, Berkeley, even a brief closure of the campus would mean substantial losses not only to the university but to the entire Bay Area, according to a new report issued today (Monday, May 1).

Mary Comerio
Mary Comerio

The report is part of a $750,000 study - the Disaster Resistant University Initiative - commissioned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and UC Berkeley. It was designed to help research universities that may face a natural disaster to find ways to protect their research, facilities and human life.

UC Berkeley leads the nation's universities in seismic safety. Currently, six major building retrofits are in progress, and four more are scheduled for completion between 2001 and 2006. The Hayward Fault passes next to or under several UC Berkeley structures.

"This report makes clear that the efforts we have underway to protect life safety on our campus are exceptional, but that there is more to be done," said Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl. "The future of the university and the well- being of the local and state economy require that UC Berkeley not only survive a sizeable earthquake, but that we are prepared to emerge from one ready to resume teaching and research without major delay."

A research team led by UC Berkeley professors Mary Comerio, John Quigley and Vitelmo Bertero found that, in the event of a very rare 7.25 quake on the Hayward Fault, the closure of UC Berkeley for one year would mean the loss during that period of nearly 9,000 jobs, $680 million in personal income and $861 million in sales in Alameda, Contra Costa and San Francisco counties combined.

UC Berkeley benefits the regional economy most by supplying it with professional graduates, the report said. Any extended campus closure likely would mean the exodus of graduate students, researchers and faculty.

Quigley, an expert on state and local tax policies as well as on labor markets, estimated that each UC Berkeley alumnus with a master's degree contributes roughly $1 million to the state gross domestic product and pays $100,000 in state taxes over the course of his or her lifetime.

"Estimating the toll is the first step toward reducing losses," according the report, which paves the way for new standards in seismic safety, loss reduction, business resumption and recovery at research universities.

FEMA Director James Lee Witt said UC Berkeley accomplished significant milestones for itself and the nation's university systems with this report and with the campus's implementation of the Disaster Resistant University concept.

"There is no question in my mind. With this effort under Chancellor Berdahl's leadership at the university, we have taken a significant step toward protecting the investment we all have in our colleges and universities," said Witt.

The Disaster Resistant University Initiative aims to develop disaster recovery and business resumption plans first for UC Berkeley, which is serving as the nation's model, and then for other universities facing the threat of natural disasters including earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes.

To produce the report, the researchers assessed financial, physical and operational damage likely to result from earthquakes of three different magnitudes.

For example, they found that the campus, home to more than 40,000 students, faculty and staff in more than 100 academic departments and research units, has the highest number of science and engineering graduate students of all institutions surveyed by the National Science Foundation.

Since many of these students remain in Northern California, including the Silicon Valley, after graduation, "the next Silicon Valley" could be lost to another state or region if the campus does not prepare for a major quake, the report warned.

Depending on the size of the quake, it could take months - even years - for the campus to resume normal operations, the report said.

UC Berkeley is not alone in either its vulnerability to a natural disaster or in its need for preparation and planning. Tulane University, the University of Miami, California State University-Northridge and the University of North Dakota are among those universities hit by natural disasters during the last decade.

"It isn't just us," said Comerio, the report's principal investigator and a UC Berkeley professor of architecture. "It's all of California and much of the United States."


Fact sheet associated with this release

Charts associated with this release

Mary Comerio's paper (PDF document, 2161K)

Mary Comerio can be reached at (510) 642-2406.
John Quigley is at (510) 643-7411.


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