Santa Cruz County History - Disasters & Calamities

"I can't reach my Aunt Mary. Can you find out if she's ok?"
by Anne Turner

Filling a Vital Need... The Library's Community Information Service

Damage from the earthquake occurred throughout the County and, because of slides and other road damage, the County was geographically isolated from the rest of the state for at least 15 hours. Erratic telephone service was restored in many areas within 24 hours and electrical service after 48 hours.

At the request of the Santa Cruz Police Department, the Library System established and staffed a community information hotline on Day 1 of the disaster recovery, October 18th. It was staffed through the following week. Its purpose was to relieve the Police Department 911 number, the City Emergency Operations Center and other city phone numbers from answering citizen queries in two categories:

"Welfare Checks" (a term which had to be explained to the Police had two meanings) -- "I'm calling from Minnesota and I can't reach my Aunt who lives at.... Could you find out if she is okay and call me back?"

Emergency Related Information: who to call for a building inspection, where to volunteer, where to send money, where the shelters were, when water would be restored, was the water safe, where to get meals, were the banks open, could a building on the Mall be entered, was there really a tidal wave coming, which schools were open, etc.

Photo of the front of the Civic Auditorium, 1989
The Front of the Civic Auditorium, 1989

During the first three days of the emergency, most of the calls were of the first type, which staff responded to by locating the person (sometimes using a reverse phone directory to check with neighbors), and calling the person or the neighbor to send a message. Staff estimates that it handled more than 200 calls of this sort, from all over the United States and from abroad.

The Community Information Service was located in offices at the Civic Auditorium, which was the City's principle Shelter site for the first five days of the emergency. The Civic had generator power, water, and Red Cross-provided food, none of which amenities were available at the Central Library. We moved the Community Information Service to the Central Library when we restored service on October 23rd.

Return to: The Loma Prieta Earthquake & The Santa Cruz Public Libraries

View similarly tagged articles:

earthquakes, libraries, Loma Prieta earthquake


It is our continuing goal to make available a selection of articles on various subjects and places in Santa Cruz County. Certain topics, however, have yet to be researched. In other cases, we were not granted permission to use articles. The content of the articles is the responsibility of the individual author. It is the Library's intent to provide accurate local history information. However, it is not possible for the Library to completely verify the accuracy of individual articles obtained from a variety of sources. If you believe that factual statements in a local history article are incorrect and can provide documentation, please contact the Webmaster.