Lessons learned from the 6.0 Napa Valley earthquake

August 27, 2014

This is a report on communication. Last Sunday, I was honored to be included in PMK’s Global Forum on the future of food. Arguably, one of the most important discussions on nutrition, sustainability and our food supply.

Early Sunday morning, about 3:20am, there was a hiccup to the conference – a 6.0 earthquake a few miles from the hotel where we were staying. The Napa Valley Marriott, a two story nice hotel, which according to their website is now closed until further notice.

The bed in my hotel room shook, the TV flew across the room, the mini fridge burst out of the wardrobe…as did the one-inch thick walled bolted-in guest safe. Living in Southern California I’m sort of used to earthquakes, but this one was the longest at 15 seconds and the most jarring I’ve experienced.

A siren went off – but there was no other communication. Many hotels have a voice-recorded instruction – something like “immediately head to the nearest exit.“ There was none. 

I opened my hotel room door to pitch-blackness. There was no emergency lighting in the hallway, and I barely saw the ice machine, which had crashed thru the door, laying on its side, with the compressor falling out of the housing.

I discovered that the flashlight app on my iPhone would indeed now be my most valued app. Along with my fellow hotel guests I made my way to the lobby where we found a single hotel staff member, who by her own admission had moved to the area nine years before and had never experienced an earthquake and was just as flustered as most of the non-Californians.

There was glass and debris everywhere as the lobby included the bar, which just minutes ago was fully stocked with glasses and bottles. The hotel guests were clamoring for answers and direction. What should they do? Leave the hotel? Go back to their rooms? Stay outside?

There were no instructions given. No direction. No comfort. A dozen or so green glow sticks were handed out.

Disasters will happen. It’s how a hotel or supermarket handles the communication that makes all the difference. All that it takes is letting people know what is going on, and what they should do…on this the hotel failed miserably and just fueled the anxiety of its guests. Would I stay there again? Would you?