You’re at Collins Dining Hall, enjoying a meal with a nice view of the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps football team. You take a stab at your salad when suddenly the ground starts to shake underneath your feet. At first you think it’s just the offensive line, but then it hits you: It’s an earthquake. A bad one.
What do you do?
You once heard something about doorways being the mecca for earthquake survivors, so you make a mad dash for the door. Oops, wrong choice. You’re dead. Despite what you’ve been told, doorways are actually among the worst places to be during a tremor, as the swinging door might hit you and cause greater bodily harm.
Maybe you already knew that. You instead shoot straight for the solace of Green Beach. Nice thought, but you’re still a goner: Aiming for the outdoors is another common mistake, as wires and other debris can fall and hit you.
Say you’re not so great under pressure. Instead of running to (perceived) safety with the rest of Claremont, you stay put. Now you find yourself trapped. Better call for help! You scream, you yell, you holler―surely someone will rescue you. Wrong again; earthquake victims trapped under buildings should not scream as they are at the risk of inhaling dangerous toxins that have been released in the shaking. This situation isn’t actually so far-fetched: Claremont Mckenna College’s Bauer Center has been found to contain whopping levels of asbestos.
You better figure it out. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there was a one percent chance of a 7.0 or greater earthquake striking the San Andreas Fault between Sept. 27 and Oct. 4. To put things in perspective: the average chance of a similar earthquake strike is one in 6,000. Our particular stretch of the fault has not ruptured since 1680, making an earth-shattering quake long overdue.
Should even a small earthquake occur in the right area, it could wake the sleeping giant, triggering a domino effect along the fault that would set off an avalanche of astounding quakes. Shakeout simulations have predicted unprecedented damage: “Historic downtowns in the Inland Empire could be awash in fallen brick, crushing people under the weight of collapsed buildings that had never been retrofitted.” Shaking waves would pulverize the region, spreading 1,600 fires, killing upwards of 1,800 people and injuring 50,000.
It is a worst-case scenario for which this historic town is woefully unprepared.
Regional authorities made serious efforts to prepare for L.A.’s long-awaited Big One in response to the Geological Survey’s warning, including the closing of San Bernardino’s City Hall due to potential instability.
However, the Claremont Consortium stood out for its relative inaction. Two full days after the Sept. 26 earthquake swarm that prompted the warning, students received a Campus Safety Alert providing notification of heightened risk and instructions to “take a moment to review your earthquake preparedness plans, maintain awareness and be prepared to take action should a major earthquake occur.”
Students received no information regarding where to access such preparedness plans. Neither administrators nor Resident Assistants made significant attempts to follow up on the email’s fear-inducing warnings. Students were left completely on their own in the face of looming disaster.
The Consortium’s lackadaisical approach operates under the assumption that all Claremont students are already aware of both the danger that earthquakes present and the ways in which it can be lessened. This is a dangerous―and perhaps even fatal―assumption: native Californians may have practiced responding to earthquakes since their diaper days, but for students hailing from the rest of the country, it’s far from common knowledge. These students comprise a large percentage of our student body: For example, the percentage of out-of-state students is 73 percent of Pomona College, and 57 percent at Pitzer College, 55 percent at Claremont Mckenna College, and 54 percent at Harvey Mudd College.
Despite their numbers, these students have been left in the lurch by the administration. It has been a full month of school, yet there has not been an earthquake drill. There are no easily accessible earthquake kits available to students in case of emergency. Out-of-state students are expected to look on the internet for safety information, assuming a level of proactivity that administrators definitely didn’t allow when requiring alcohol education and event host training.
The Colleges should take a page out of elementary education’s rulebook, in which California schools are required by law to have periodic drills throughout the year. The result? Kids know where to go for refuge and who specifically to report to upon survival, facilitating a level of patience and composure that often marks the difference between life and death in times of crisis. Until Claremont approaches earthquake preparedness with the same effort, such a promising outcome is far from secure.
Tuesday has come and gone, and with it California’s earthquake advisory period. I can only hope that calls to improve earthquake responses in the Colleges won’t be left similarly in the past.
Rachel Lang CM '17 is an International Relations major from the DC area. Love her points? Disagree? Shoot her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.