By Nick Vasquez and Matthew DeForest, Nov. 23, 2021

Cal Poly Pomona participated in the Great California ShakeOut last month, a statewide earthquake drill meant to prepare participants for the damage and disaster that could be caused by a major earthquake.

With California experiencing a higher number of damaging earthquakes than any other state, campus officials seek to be proactive in preparing for such a scenario by releasing educational materials year-round and running the drills.

Ernie Fierro, manager of Emergency Management and Business Continuity — the office which organizes the Great ShakeOut — explained the importance of the ShakeOut and how students and staff can be prepared for when an earthquake hits.

“The Great ShakeOut reminds us to be prepared, make a plan and practice drop, lock, cover and hold,” said Fierro. “In crisis situations we do not rise to the occasion, we fall to the level of our training. Through education and training drills we make our campus stronger.”

Students in Ertan Salik’s class take shelter under desks during the Great California Shakeout earthquake drill in Building 8 at Cal Poly Pomona. (Courtesy of Tom Zasadzinski)

According to the university’s Emergency Procedures webpage, the campus’ Facilities Management and University Police Department, in coordination with the Environmental Health & Safety Department, will determine what buildings should be evacuated, what hazardous areas are to be avoided and what the safest routes of egress are from the buildings and campus.

Any decision to evacuate will be made as soon as possible and activated using available fire alarms, telephones or personal contact by designated key personnel or campus police.

Ilke Suzer, an urban and regional planning student, shared her perspective on why it is important to be prepared for an earthquake.

“I think it is natural to have concern, even if it’s rare for such earthquakes to occur in our region,” said Suzer. “The more important aspect is being prepared helps us overcome the process of an earthquake. Having structural integrity in our buildings around campus, within classrooms with furniture being secured to the wall, having the procedure down for how to proceed so we don’t succumb to panic.”

Cal Poly Pomona officials are especially concerned over the likelihood of blackouts when a high magnitude earthquake hits. Experts estimate blackouts of up to 72 hours after the Big One hits, leaving the possibility of problems like supply shortages.

Therefore, Fierro stressed that it is imperative to have supplies stored for that amount of time. Fierro urged campus community members to always have at least a half a tank of gas in their cars in case they have to drive long distances to seek safety.

According to Giuseppe Lomiento, an associate professor in the Civil Engineering Department, many buildings in California today are a lot safer from earthquakes than they were 25 years ago. New construction regulations are helping reduce the risk of collapse, but there is still a lot to be desired when it comes to earthquake safety.

As previously reported, the campus’ CLA building is built on a fault line; employees are no longer working in the CLA building and CPP officials have plans to tear the building down in the near future, according to Fierro. As discussed in an Academic Senate last month, this demolition is expected to cost around $70 million.

According to Lomiento, seismic isolators are the most effective way to prevent building damage during an earthquake. They separate a building from the ground and allow buildings to gently sway rather than violently shake during earthquakes. They are also very expensive and still relatively uncommon.

“Seismic isolators are already used for buildings that are essential for post-earthquake emergencies, such as hospitals,” said Lomiento. “However, they are not used in commercial and residential buildings because they are not required by the building codes. Contractors and designers will always go for the minimum solution required by the code, for ease of construction and money saving.”

Lomiento stressed that people should prepare for the worst when it comes to earthquakes. Even with modern building codes, there is still a high chance of building and infrastructure damage, and there is also the possibility that current technology is not up to par.

“Seismic resistant buildings are designed to crumple during a major seismic event, like a car would do in a traffic accident,” said Lomiento. “Most of the improvements in the building codes follow destructive earthquakes as a measure to mitigate the biggest structural problems witnessed after those seismic events. This makes the progress of seismic protection a slow process, even if researchers are continuously looking for better ways of improving seismic protection.”

The 1994 Northridge earthquake, one of the state’s largest on record, caused billions of dollars in damage and thousands of injuries, striking at 4:30 a.m. when most people were asleep.

There is no schedule for natural disasters and earthquakes are especially unpredictable. Earthquakes can occur at any moment and authorities stress that students and their families should always be prepared to evacuate and support themselves in the immediate aftermath.

Educational resources can be found on CPP’s emergency procedures webpage and on the California state government website.

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