Is Riverside prepared for the “Big One?”

By: Evan Ismail, Senior Staff Writer and Jaya Vengadesan, Staff Writer


UCR students, faculty and staff participated in the Great California Shakeout on Tuesday, Oct. 19 alongside 10.3 million others across California. The drill, organized by the Earthquake Country Alliance, is intended to teach people how to react properly during an earthquake.

According to the Great California Shakeout, the drill was inaugurated in 2008 in order to train Californians for a potential 7.8 magnitude earthquake along the San Andreas fault, from which, according to the website, the Inland Empire will experience the strongest shaking in Southern California. UCR lies only 13 miles from the San Andreas fault and five miles from the San Jacinto Fault (whose last major rupture occurred in 1987 at a 6.2-6.6 magnitude), which are capable of an 8.3 and 7.0 magnitude earthquake, respectively.

Tuesday’s drill began at 10:19 a.m. as a two-minute-long message broadcasted over KUCR FM and bell tower speakers and an additional notification came via text message alerts. The campus community was instructed to drop, cover and hold on during the two-minute drill.

In order to better understand how UCR and the city of Riverside is prepared in the event of a major earthquake (or, the “Big One”), the Highlander reached out to campus and city officials.

Abhijit Ghosh, assistant professor of Earth Sciences, worked with the communications department and emergency services to coordinate Tuesday’s event. Not only was Ghosh responsible for the preparatory mass emails sent out to the student body, but he also coordinated the text message alerts as well as organized an informational ShakeOut booth at the bell tower.   

Ghosh expressed concerns about statewide preparation, saying that although “things are improving, are we prepared fully? The short answer is no. That is part of the final goal.” After speaking to students on campus, Ghosh came to the understanding that many still believe old myths such as “running outside for safety or standing under the doorway” are how to properly react in the event of a quake.

“Drop, cover and hold on. Do not think about it,” says Ghosh.“It is really important to follow safe practices so that in times of panic, it becomes an automatic, reflex reaction. It’s two minutes of practice that can save your life.”

A misconception that many students worry about in the event of a quake is tsunamis, which Ghosh states are not a realistic aftereffect of the “Big One.” This is due to the fact that the fault line is not situated under or near the ocean so coastal regions have no need to worry.

Ghosh emphasizes the need for the UCR student body and faculty members to prepare and participate in the Great ShakeOut because California is quite overdue for a large-magnitude earthquake. Unlike Mexico’s recent earthquake in September, Ghosh states that the campus does not need to worry about falling buildings because of California’s building codes and retrofitting. Buildings and roads may receive simple cracks and broken windows, but the real threats are from gas leaks or fire eruptions from broken pipelines.

In the event of such emergency situations, Lisa Martin, UCR’s emergency manager, believes “we are much better prepared today than we were five years ago.” Preparations UCR’s Environmental Health and Safety Department (EHSD) has made, per Martin, include building the brand new emergency operation center, which was moved over from the police department into the EHSD.

“We have the ability to set up 30 workstations for folks to work in 24/7. We have one of the premier emergency operations centers within the UC system,” assures Martin. She also mentioned that UCR administration can call on the support of UCR staff, as well as other UCs should the situation arise.

“We also have an emergency response trailer for mass care and shelter. So we have cots, blankets and things like that which we can establish in the student recreation center to facilitate 100 students,” says Martin. “We are also in the process of identifying 120 people out of the emergency operation center. They work in four teams of 30 around the clock. We also offer FEMA training.”

On top of all this, UCR held a county-wide emergency operations exercise, hosting 150 representatives from external partner agencies, including city and county fire departments and the FBI. She hopes that “they get to know us as a campus and we get to know them, so that we’re all familiar with each other before a disaster hits.”

Ultimately, Martin highly recommends that students, staff and faculty are individually prepared as well. “We have thousands of students and faculty on campus. So if there is a way in which you could put together a go-bag or an emergency preparedness kit yourself, that’s extremely important,” he says.

Mark Annas, the city of Riverside’s emergency operations coordinator, shed some light on Riverside’s preparedness in an interview with the Highlander. Annas discussed the Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) which was drafted in 2011 under former Mayor Ronald Loveridge, now a UCR political science professor.

The 117-page plan is “a basic framework of what is your overall response to go through the emergency operations center and get information out to different departments and agencies to coordinate the response, not necessarily at the tactical level, but at the strategic level” in an event such as an earthquake, said Annas in a phone interview. Some of the agencies include UCR, federal departments like Homeland Security and city departments like fire, police as well as parks and recreation, which oversees mass care and shelter. The plan also calls for working with the Riverside County Emergency Management Department to coordinate with neighboring cities and unincorporated areas, since “what affects one jurisdiction does not just stop at the border,” according to Annas.

An alert system for the state of California, entitled Shake Alert, is still being developed and expected to be completed in 2018. The network’s purpose is to detect an earthquake seconds before it happens and notify the public.

According to Annas, in order to notify Riverside residents, “We utilize both land line phone numbers that are available in the 911 database as well as a list of numbers through public utilities.” Riverside residents can also register for Riverside Alert, a mass notification system where people can register multiple numbers and addresses and can be alerted by text, email or call. Riverside County also offers an alert system called Alert RivCo that notifies residents and businesses in Riverside County.

Riverside also has training events and information available such as Ready Riverside, which provides suggestions on how to prepare an emergency kit and a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program which trains people to be self-sufficient when a major disaster strikes. The program has trained over 2,000 people to date, according to Annas.

 

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