Christina Aushana/Guardian

    The ground begins to shudder. First comes the initial wave, then the real quake. Buildings groan like a train passing. It could be the “big one” experts have been predicting for years. But when it comes, will we be prepared?

    UCSD and other universities throughout California took part in the massive “Golden Guardian” earthquake drill last Thursday as preparation for a large-scale earthquake. According to a report released by the U.S. Geological Survey, the southern San Andreas Fault has a 59 percent likelihood of an earthquake of magnitude 7.8 or higher occurring within the next 30 years.

    During the six-hour drill, members from UCSD’s Emergency and Continuation Services, campus police and a seismologist from Scripps Institution of Oceanography met to discuss emergency procedures and the likelihood of strong earthquake shocks on campus. In addition to the forum, police called on-campus departments, such as the library, to run through possible scenarios involving such a disaster.

    “We’ve had an effort for continuous planning,” Director of Emergency and Continuity Services Philip Van Saun said. “It’s been a big effort of the chancellor to ask every department what its essentials are, whether it’s running water, power or electronics in order to teach, and we’ve been asking how to create back-up plans.”

    Campus officials have stressed planning possible escape routes and outlining structurally sound areas to weather a potential earthquake. Officials also advise keeping copies of lesson plans handy in the case of a power outage. One aspect is a UC-wide Internet service, UCready, which is in its final stages and can provide a means of storing data crucial to school functions online.

    In his analysis of campus preparedness, Van Saun noted, of all the groups on campus, students may be the most at risk during an earthquake.

    “In the case of earthquakes, we can’t rely on predictions and models, but at least we can partly predict humans,” Van Saun said. “It isn’t the police or the administration that could be better prepared, it’s the students. We’re all so busy that’s its just hard to keep safety in mind at all times. It’s the balance we have to maintain.”

    Van Saun also said campus officials have experience with emergency response after the recent wildfires in Southern California, active-shooting drills in the wake of the shooting at Virginia Tech in April 2007 and a bomb scare last December.

    According to research presented to the drill team by geophysics associate professor Yuri Fialko to the drill team, an earthquake hitting the southern San Andreas Fault would spread primarily in a longitudinal fashion parallel to the California coast, with minor shock waves hitting San Diego County.

    “That area of the San Andreas fault hasn’t had a major earthquake for about 300 years,” Fialko said. “It’s been storing roughly 25 millimeters of slip, or movement, for [that period].”

    Fialko’s data, collected by satellite tracking of the relative speed of the San Andreas fault, predicts that the damage in the case of an earthquake would largely affect the Los Angeles area. USGS estimates 300,000 buildings would be damaged, resulting in $213 billion in repairs, 270,000 people displaced and 1,800 deaths.

    “These are actually small numbers for an event of this magnitude,” Fialko said. “In perspective, more than 100,000 people were killed in China and Pakistan by recent earthquakes. The reason these numbers are smaller is the state of the buildings in California.”

    Experts have concluded that the university is significantly prepared in terms of structurally sound buildings.

    “All of our buildings comply with the California policy of science safety and if we were hit by an earthquake of that magnitude, we are hopeful there’d be minimal loss of life,” campus architect Boone Hellman said.

    Following California building codes, UCSD campus buildings range from good to fair, Hellman said. According to the California Building Code, both meanings anticipate structural damage and the possibility of falling hazards, but represent a low possibility of loss of life. The only exception, Hellman said, was University House — the historic chancellor’s residence — because of its older architecture, but it is currently being supported and strengthened.

    According to Fialko, most campus buildings are steel-framed, designed to withstand damage and have little chance of collapse. Even older buildings on campus have held up to code and are expected to react similarly.

    “Earthquakes are unpredictable on what kind of effects they produce,” Hellman said. “In some cases the shorter buildings would resonate with a particular earthquake period, sometimes the opposite happens. We can’t predict exactly and that’s why we do our best to comply with building codes.”

    The damage to UCSD would likely come in localized quakes.

    “Rose Canyon is an active fault in our backyard,” Fialko said. “It is capable of damaging earthquakes, but we still know little about its history and the average repeat time of significant ruptures.”
    UCSD is also focusing on what it could do for other campuses in the case of a large earthquake. Among other possibilities, UCSD may be able to send aid and even offer instruction to UC Riverside, which is in position to bear the brunt of an earthquake.

    “For Riverside we would most likely be a resource,” Van Saun said. “We are in a position to offer aid and even help bear the load of the students in that area if necessary. [UC campuses] are all interconnected so we would be sure to offer some kind of assistance.”

    In addition, Van Saun said the university may play a role in helping the larger area, by supplying energy from its local power grid or sending out student volunteers like it did during last year’s wildfires.

    Van Saun stressed earthquake preparedness as the best measure of safety.

    “I don’t think it’s apathy, but it’s taking the time to make [earthquake preparedness] a part of life,” Van Saun said. “If you’re a victim of a violent crime, you take precautions to be prepared in the future. Likewise, if you experience an earthquake, you’re more prepared. But we obviously want to be prepared in the first place.”

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