Ceci Carmichael

California has anticipated its next massive earthquake, dubbed ‘the big one,’ for decades. The aftermath of the 7.1 magnitude earthquake in Mexico City on Sept. 19 has spurred an increase in natural disaster preparedness and disaster relief efforts. Whittier College Campus Safety sent out guidelines for earthquake preparedness in a student-L email on Sept. 20 to inform the College community of what to do in an earthquake. 

Some tips in the email range from “Stay away from windows or mirrors,” to “Do not spread rumors. They can cause great stress following disasters.” Students are also encouraged to keep a ‘go bag,’ with emergency medical supplies and a small amount of food and water.

In case of displacement or rubble, students should also include an extra pair of prescription glasses and sturdy walking shoes. In a video on preparing an effective go bag, Campus Safety officer Manuel Davila said, “Everyone in Southern California should be prepared for an earthquake.” 

Magaly Perez, the Safety and Compliance Coordinator here at Whittier emphasizes the importance of signing your phone up for the Emergency Alert System. “In the face of disaster, our alert system is there to help students have more information about what’s happening on campus.”

The instinct to prepare for a natural disaster is not unfounded. A study done by the US Geological Survey in 2008 found that there is a 99.9 percent chance of a 6.7 magnitude earthquake occurring on the San Andreas fault over the next 30 years.

Whittier is no stranger to seismic activity. In 1987, a 5.9 magnitude earthquake shook the uptown community, killing eight and displacing around 10,000. Unlike other natural disasters such as hurricanes, there is no ability to tell when an earthquake is coming. The folklore of ‘earthquake weather’ is just that, the myth that hot and dry weather predicts an earthquake has been systematically debunked. Since the earthquake, the City of Whittier has updated their resources to the public. They have a full page of resources on the city website with a bunch of different resources, “The Department of Public Health would like to remind everyone that precautions should be taken.”

 The only existing technology is an early warning system that sends out notifications about an earthquake minutes to seconds before it hits. In the Mexico City earthquake, residents were given a 30 second heads up to take shelter. Countries like Mexico and Japan use the early warning system to try and give vulnerable people the opportunity to take cover. Howeve, the technology is still in development, in the United States. Only 40 percent of necessary sensors are in place for the system to be effective, according to the US Geological Services. There’s little federal funding to develop and maintain such a large system, and there are questions over its usefulness given that its capabilities are limited.

 The uncertainty of tectonic plates makes it difficult to plan for a natural disaster, but the College is doing its best to inform the community of what to do in case of an emergency. Consequences of a 6.7 or higher magnitude. 

The College will take part in the Great ShakeOut earthquake drill at 10:19 a.m. on Oct. 19. This is a yearly, scheduled simulation to raise awareness about evacuation protocol. During the Great ShakeOut, students are expected to get underneath a sturdy structure like a table or desk, then evacuate to the designated area. Evacuation zones on campus include: the north lawn, the baseball field, the upper quad, and the courtyard in front of the music building. “We encourage every student to participate. This drill is very important to everyone here on campus,” says Magaly Perez.

Recently, some staff and students on campus have started a committee, called the Hurricane & Earthquake Relief Committee, to help disaster relief. Filled with both students and staff, the committee’s goal is to help Puerto Rico and Mexico in any way they can. Last week, they had a meeting discussing what possible ways Whittier College could help those in need. They discussed many possibilities, including having an awareness day, fundraising events, and a possible alternative spring break. Since that meeting was just for brainstorming, nothing is solidified. If you are passionate about helping, the committee meets Tuesdays at 5:00 p.m. in the Dean of Students Office. The Quaker Campus will continue to report on this story as it develops.