Facility opens in East Bay that could prove critical in big emergencies

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It's been nearly 30 years in the making, but the new Water Emergency Transportation Authority operations facility at Alameda Point is now a reality. (KGO-TV)

Earthquakes in the Bay Area are a question of "when" not "if," and Thursday, officials christened a new facility in the East Bay that could prove critical in the movement of resources and people in a big emergency-- like a major earthquake.

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It's been nearly 30 years in the making, but the new Water Emergency Transportation Authority operations facility at Alameda Point is now a reality.

The idea for the WETA center grew out of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, when a section of the Bay Bridge collapsed, cutting off San Francisco, from the East Bay.

"It is not just a maritime capability. This is a capability for the region, for the state and for our federal partners," said Jody Breckenridge, WETA Chair.

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The new Ron Cowan Central Bay Operations and Maintenance Facility has 12 berths for San Francisco Bay Ferry boats to be refueled and maintained. But in the case of an emergency, like a major earthquake, the facility would take on a whole different role--under the guidance of the California Office of Emergency Services.

WETA Spokesman Thomas Hall said, "In the case of a major catastrophe like a major earthquake on the Peninsula, we would be able to move first responders from where they are to where they need to be."

The $50-million facility includes an emergency operations center, which would oversee the deployment of ferry boats to the areas where they are needed most.

Besides serving as transportation for first responders, the ferries could also be used to evacuate thousands of stranded people, from one side of the bay to the other.

This ferry service is already critical to the larger Bay Area transportation system, but in a big disaster, it could be life-saving.

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