The cottage was in the parking lot of San Ramon Regional Medical Center, which was hosting a meeting of disaster planners from hospitals throughout the East Bay. I thought I'd try out the simulator before the crowds arrived so one of the hospital's engineers and I gamely climbed in and put our hands on the grips. Ready? Sure. Whoa! The little room shook and shook. Big time. My hair flopped around, and I clasped the grips tightly to stay on the seat. Opposite the three chairs were a tall filing cabinet, a short filing cabinet with a fax machine, and a bookcase, all properly stabilized to demonstrate the importance of being prepared. I kept my eyes on them just in case they shook loose. I thought about the victims of the recent earthquake in China, which measured 7.8 on the Richter scale. And I thought about my own home and what this kind of jolting would do to it.
The shaking seemed to go on well over a minute but when it finally settled down to a wobble, I was informed it only had been a 35-second experience. I'm a native of the Bay Area so have felt small jolts and shakes all my life but was out of the country when Loma Prieta hit. The earthquake cottage shook me up in more ways than one. I'll like to sit out the big one.
What's with all the earthquakes and cyclones and tornadoes lately? Then a hot spell, next a cold spell. And now water rationing. We received our notification from EBMUD and have been diligently cutting back 19 percent on water usage. Our grass is on death's door, and I've been washing our dinner dishes in a cup of water and taking those minimalist sailor showers - water on for a few seconds to get wet, off while applying soap and shampoo, then on again briefly to rinse off. But I am not ready to stop running our backyard fountain for at least a few hours each weekend; it's a wonderful stress reliever - often at work I'll stop and think about its tinkling water and the birds dashing in for a quick bath. The water is circulated by a pump, although we lose some to splashing and evaporation, not to mention thirsty deer, raccoons and squirrels - and neighborhood cats.
I first learned about sailor showers when we lived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and the wadi that supplied the city's water was damaged in a storm. Our water was delivered by a tank pulled by a donkey, which would stop at our house a couple of times a week for the water to be pumped up into another tank on our roof. No water from the wadi meant no water delivery so when our tank ran dry, we were out of luck; it was easy to visualize the water in that tank getting lower each time we turned the spigot.
I was surprised to read how much water is wasted if a faucet drips. If it drips once a second, it wastes more than 8 gallons a day; 10 drops a minute means a gallon a day. We checked our water meter to make sure it wasn't moving to know for sure we don't have any leaks. The meter was still but a shiny black spider down the hole next to it was rather alarming.
Anyway, back to the Quake Cottage. I watched as several groups of people went through the simulation. They mostly laughed in surprise as they were tossed around, heads and legs flopping. You can see a video I shot at www.DanvilleWeekly.com. Danville Emergency Services Manager Greg Gilbert went through the simulation with another man but neither of them seemed to be tossed at all - they must have really been gripping hard, I surmised. So I e-mailed Greg the next day, confessed about my aching arms and asked if he was sore. Nope. Must be great to be in good shape. He's ready for the big one.
-Dolores Fox Ciardelli can be e-mailed at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.