Acting Oakland Public Works Director Brooke A. Levin hit the decks along with other Californians for the California ShakeOut on Oct. 15.

She and her staff practiced Drop, Cover and Hold at the Oakland Public Works Service Center, out near the Oakland Airport.

Levin stepped into the role on Monday, Oct. 12, after former Public Works Director, Raul Godinez, headed down to Santa Ana after five years to serve as its PWD.

“All of us in California have a responsibility to be as aware, knowledgeable and prepared as we can be, both in our professional roles and in our personal lives. All efforts to prepare and respond will be very welcomed and needed when the time comes. Our agency is ready to step up when the time comes,” Levin said.

The drill is designed to remind all California citizens and businesses of proper protocol during a quake. And to make sure everyone has an emergency plan and practices their earthquake drills. The drill started at 10:15 a.m. and lasted for 60 seconds.

Oakland Public Works Spokesperson, Kristine Shaff, said the city of Oakland has come a long way since the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. In fact, the City is sponsoring a free memorial event on Saturday from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Cypress Memorial Park, at Mandela Parkway and 14th St.

Shaff spoke to about why the event is important and how Oakland Public Works has better prepared itself for such a disaster in the future, as well as addressed the issue of an acting Public Works Director.

Q: Why is the event on Saturday important?

A: It is important because we all know it’s not a matter of if but when another earthquake happens … and we need to be prepared.

Q: What will the event feature?

A: It’s actually taking place at the location where the Cypress Viaduct Freeway collapsed and where there is now a Memorial Garden. It has been rebuilt and is a lovely streetscape commemorative in that community. The event will be three parts: First, it will reflect on the progress that has been made in 20 years. Secondly, it will honor those who lost their lives in the collapse of the Cypress Freeway during the Loma Prieta earthquake, and third, it will help show people how to prepare for the next quake or major disaster.

Q: Many from Oakland lost their lives in 1989 …

A: Yes, there were 42 on the Cypress structure who lost their lives. Their names will be read aloud by Mayor Ronald Dellums and a bell will ring. People may not realize, but there were also many local citizens who responded to the scene, and over 60 Dept. of Public Works employees who rushed to the scene. They were attending a commercial driving class and already had the big trucks, so they responded. We are going to honor what has happened in the past and prepare for what is ahead. Over the years since, we have had some other disasters, including the fire storm, that we have also responded to.

Q: How has Oakland Public Works become more prepared since the 1989 earthquake?

A: Oakland Public Works has participated in a lot of Office of Emergency Services training required by NIMs and SEMs. We have 560 employees, who go through emergency drills, incident command training, emergency exercise training, etc., so we are involved in quite a bit hands-on. Our employees have received, and continue to receive, a lot of good experience so we can respond well.

We are first to respond just like police and fire are first responders. We have also created a departmental operations center at our service yard, so Public Works will have communications and incident command equipment that we can use in a partial activation, i.e. winter storms, as well as in a big event. We also have back-up generators and power at two of our key yards so that we can continue with essential services.

We have revamped more than 30 city facility buildings since 1989 to bring them up to codes for seismic upgrades including city hall and offices, fire stations, recreation centers and other community buildings across the city.

Q: Why does Oakland have an Acting Public Works Director?

A: Ms. Levin is the Acting Public Works Director, and she also the Assistant Director of Facilities and Environment. The City Administrator’s plan is to appoint an interim Public Works Director in the next few weeks, followed by a recruiting process.

Q: How can the City of Oakland work effectively with just an Acting Public Works Director?

A: Obviously, like most cities, we are facing budgets issues, but we’re working carefully. Our managers and staff are working to stay in close touch with each other, as well as with administration and City Council so that we can strategically address the work. It is a challenge, but we also see it as an opportunity – we have to rethink what we do and look at things closely. We are making sure that we communicate well and that we are following through on things that make the best business sense.

Q: Who should attend the event on Saturday?

A: It’s for everyone and anyone and it’s free – the city is hosting it in this community because it was hard hit in 1989. It is also a community that has lower income and the event will afford residents and businesses an opportunity to take advantage of what is being offered. It is quite a special event for Oakland, and everyone is welcome.

Beyond Oakland Public Works, we have partnered with others in the SF Bay Area including the East Bay Municipal Utilities District, Pacific Gas & Electric, Waste Management and AT&T. All of these large agencies have worked hard to improve the stability of the infrastructure over the last 20 years.

There has been a huge push for a better regional approach to earthquake preparedness and the response is so much better. It is important that every citizen in California know that for the first 3-5 days after an earthquake or major disaster, it is likely you will be on your own – the big guys will be working on the biggest issues. So, this means that the rest of us need to be prepared and have all we need to be safe and secure.

The writer, Debbie L. Sklar is a 20-plus year journalism veteran residing in Southern California, where she is a writer, columnist and editor for many local, regional and national publications. She is a regular contributor to and may be reached via e-mail at