Shake, Rattle and Roll: SMC participates in the Great Shakeout 2015

Yesterday, Santa Monica College took part in The Great California ShakeOut, a statewide earthquake preparedness drill that saw millions of Californians participating. For SMC students participation meant stopping whatever they were doing and waiting outside for twenty minutes at 10:15 A.M., when a series of alarms sounded. Staff and faculty then checked buildings to ensure no one was occupying them before attaching paper X’s to signal to potential emergency crews that they were cleared.

Leading the ShakeOut drill was Mike Tuitasi, Vice President of Student Affairs. Tuitasi is in charge of emergency preparedness and worked in conjunction with the SMCPD as well as the building monitors (staff volunteers) to make the drill run as smoothly as possible.

"This is an educational opportunity for students. There a lot of international students [and students from out of state] who've never been through an earthquake," said Tuitasi.

Tuitasi reminds us that in case of an earthquake disaster, students should expect for freeways to be down, transit to be unavailable, and the parking structure to be closed. "Students should be prepared to be stranded for up to three days," said Tuitasi.

“Like any drill, it’s practice,” said Sgt. Jerry Romano of the SMCPD shortly after the ShakeOut ended. “There’s always room to improve, so it’s never perfect, but I’d say that for about 85% [of this drill] we were right on.”

Many of the school’s administrators and staff were in agreement with Sgt. Romano about staff and faculty preparedness during and after the drill, finding that the school was more than up to the task to handle a real earthquake should one ever occur.

Wendi DeMorst, Interim Director of supplemental instruction and one of the faculty members checking buildings during the drill said, “I feel like this, just getting people to understand what to do in an earthquake – duck, cover, get out of the building – and not have people chaotically running all over the place, I think that’s beneficial.”

However many of the students seemed bored and listless about the drill. Most conversed with other students forced outside with them while waiting to get back to class, the library, or whatever prior activity they were doing before the alarms sounded. “I don’t mind it, I just hope it’s over quickly,” said Angela Choi, a student who was ushered out of the cafeteria when the drill began, “I know it’s for safety and the earthquake that’s coming, but it’s definitely disruptive.”

“I’m not sure students have natural disasters on their radar,” said Bruce Wyman, Director of Facilities. “They have lots of things to consider, but it’s part of our responsibility to help them grow in awareness that these things can happen. A lot of our student population probably hasn’t experienced a natural disaster.”

Director Wyman demonstrated one of two water purifiers the school purchased to ensure a potable water supply in case of an emergency. The DIVVY POD purifiers are part of an emergency plan to turn the campus’ fountain and pool water into a supply of drinking water for up to three days in case students ever become trapped on campus, all without the need for electricity.

In preparation for these natural disasters, booths were set up by different purveyors such as the American Red Cross, Community Emergency Response Team, SMC Geology program, etc. At her booth, Marcia Hall, Career Service Advisor, had an array of supplies spread out on the table for an emergency including drinking water, a flashlight, batteries, playing cards. "It's important to have the things that you need in order to sustain you... we say for at least three days," she said.

The school’s Earth Sciences department also had a table informing students of careers in geology and how they could obtain a basic seismograph app for their smart phones.

“We had a few people initially attack us, which was gratifying,” said Professor Stuart Cooley. But I think overall people are a bit laissez-faire about this. My guess is if we did a poll of people walking by, maybe one in five would have something even approaching an earthquake kit.”

Dr. Cara Thompson, who teaches geology was also on hand to bust a common myth that many students had expressed: that the lack of recent noticeable earthquakes could build up to a “big one” to come soon. “If you’re looking at one fault, then yes [that’s true],” said Dr. Thompson. “If the land around the fault is moving but the fault itself isn’t slipping then the longer you wait, the bigger the earthquake. But when you look regionally, that’s not true. Just because we haven’t had a bunch of small earthquakes in a while regionally, that doesn’t mean that’s building up to a very large one.”

Professor Cooley recommended that students interested in any recent rumblings they might feel to go online and check the Southern California Earthquake Data Center managed by Cal Tech, which tracks all recent seismic movements in our fault lines by linking seismographs across the southland, including SMC’s own seismograph stationed in Drescher Hall.

By the end of the day’s drill, the consensus seemed to be that while the school was doing all it could, few were truly prepared in case a major earthquake was to hit any time soon. Thinking that we take our safety for granted, Hall said, "It's not a matter of if it's going to happen, it's when."