APU students express concerns regarding the university’s location in a seismic territory, as well as the protocols and resources available to them should a major seismic event occur
Southern California experienced its most powerful quakes in the last two decades in July 2019 when a 7.1 magnitude and a 6.4 magnitude tremor hit the desert city of Ridgecrest and shook people from Las Vegas to Los Angeles.
As the shifting of tectonic plates that lie beneath Earth’s surface occurs everyday, the sudden jolt to the region raises concerns for when the “Big One” will take place along the infamous San Andreas fault.
According to CNN, the fault line is an 800-mile boundary that splits the Pacific tectonic plate to the west and the North American plate to the east, moving at a rate of about 2 inches per year. The movement is so slight that it cannot be felt or seen by the naked eye and makes major tremors along the fault uncommon.
However, history shows that major earthquakes can occur along the fault with catastrophic effects.
The 7.9 magnitude quake that leveled San Francisco in 1906 claimed the title of the deadliest quake in U.S. history as it ruptured the northern San Andreas fault line.
Geologists say that going more than 100 years without major seismic activity along the fault is abnormal and could foreshadow a massive quake occurring soon, CNN reported.
The fault lines snakes from the San Francisco Peninsula down through Southern California and runs close to San Bernardino County, Los Angeles County and Azusa Pacific.
What would happen if a major quake were to occur at APU and how is the university prepared?
Gary Kossky, Campus Safety lieutenant and chair of the Critical Incident Response Team, said the university would respond based on the type of earthquake that would occur.
“If it’s an aftershock or a minor seismic change, then people should be aware of where they are at and what’s going on, and if there was nothing to really respond to, then we wait it out,” Kossky said. “But if there’s a significant seismic event, then people should get under a table or whatever cover they can.”
Paul Dennis, executive director of the Department of Campus Safety (DCS), said that although a major quake would be startling, it is always important for people to be as calm as they can.
“One of the first things maybe to do, it’s a simple task, but take a deep breath and blow it out, and then let the thought process kick in,” Dennis said. “We all learned it in kindergarten: Duck, cover and hold on. Once the shaking stops, assess where you are. If you are in an area where you are vulnerable, get out of that area and get into an open space.”
Students have expressed concerns of a major tremor striking APU.
“I think as most people would feel, we’re all quite nervous when it comes to major disasters,” said senior Matt Baker. “Especially with us being on the fault line in California, since it hasn’t moved in so long, I get nervous about it. Honestly, I don’t know what I would do.”
Senior Mila Reyes is concerned about overall awareness and the preparedness.
“I’m nervous because I don’t think any of us are prepared. One common thing that we’re all taught to do is get under cover, but if something falls on you, then you are just trapped forever.”
DCS encourages the APU community to view its list of preparedness and emergency protocols on the university’s website.
For out-of-state students or people who are unfamiliar with the region, Kossky said resources and information about state-wide earthquake preparedness can be found by going to Caltech’s seismic offices or by searching ‘California earthquakes’ on Google.
“The key to preparedness is having a plan before the incident happens,” Dennis said. “And the way you develop your own personal plan is by being informed.”
Last year, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the State of California introduced “ShakeAlert,” an app that detects significant earthquakes so quickly that it can alert people before the shaking starts.
“It sends you a notification when there is a 4.5 or greater earthquake in LA County,” said Dennis. “It won’t give you minutes of advanced notice, but it might get you seconds.”
Dennis also said that everyone should have a bag packed with food and supplies ready for use at any given time.
Dennis and Kossky believe that along with the preparedness resources, there are additional facts that offer some comfort to Southern California.
“Seismic plates slipping is normal and it’s not anything really to be afraid of,” Kossky said. “Geological changes occur every second of the day.”
Dennis pointed out that California’s engineering standards makes us safer.
“We see on the news these devastating earthquakes that have happened around the globe and cities literally flattened,” said Dennis. “California and Los Angeles in particular have had quakes of the same level and we’ve done very well considering the damage just because of the high standards of engineering where we live.”
Although officials are unable to predict the exact timing of the ‘Big One,’ CNN said researchers encourage residents and local officials to prepare now and retrofit structures to withstand seismic force before the next major shake.
“Many people are afraid of dying in an earthquake, but we need to be much more worried about the aftermath than what happens during the earthquake itself,” said seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones in an interview with WIRED. “You’ll almost undoubtedly survive the ‘Big One,’ but afterwards, we’re going to be dealing with damaged buildings, disrupted infrastructure, lack of potable water, rampaging fires, disruption of all of our businesses. And getting through that is what’s going to determine what happens to our communities.”