By The Signal Editorial Board
When the Earth shook at 4:31 a.m. on Jan. 17, 1994, it started a 24-hour workday for many people. First responders, of course. Municipal service providers, city and county officials, water agency workers. All had important jobs to do, controlling damage, saving lives, repairing and restoring infrastructure. It would take months, and in that first 24 hours, most of them didn’t sleep.
The same for your local media: For example, the staff of The Signal literally started working as soon as the ground stopped shaking. Photographers and reporters, monitoring first responders’ radio frequencies, hit the ground running — with no communication or direction from their editors, because phone lines were down — and did what they knew they needed to do, covering the quake’s devastation.
That day, the staff was reminded of the importance of a disaster plan — namely, because the paper didn’t really have one. It was improvised on the spot: The old Signal building on Creekside Road (still “new” back then) was temporarily uninhabitable. The power was out and there were concerns about structural damage, so the staff was only allowed into the building to grab a few supplies: A copy of the masthead, some notebooks, and film — lots of film. This was, after all, before digital photography.
News meetings were held in the parking lot several times during the day, with notice of them being spread via word of mouth. Management took on the task of figuring out just how to produce the next day’s paper, with no power, no computers and no presses.
The solution came from a friendly neighbor: The Antelope Valley Press opened its newsroom to the staff of The Signal after the AV press finished its own earthquake edition late that night. Signal staffers, with full notebooks, that copy of the masthead, and many rolls of film in hand, trekked to Palmdale and put together a special quake edition.
At 4:30 a.m., on the day after the quake, the staff rolled back into Santa Clarita, with the special edition ready to hit the streets. At the time, The Signal was proud to say it had never missed a scheduled edition — but this was scary-close.
We were reminded of that “past life” newspapering experience a week ago, when Mylar balloons knocked out power to more than 20,000 customers — including our own offices in Centre Pointe. While we now print the paper off-site, electricity is as important as ever to our production, and perhaps just as important is a reliable internet connection. We can’t upload newspaper pages over a spotty hotspot connection.
While last week’s power outage was nowhere near as significant of a situation as the ‘94 earthquake, it still raised two points, one immediate, and one for the future:
1) How were we going to get the news covered, and get the Saturday paper out, with no electricity and no internet?
2) Was this a reminder that we need to prepare an updated disaster plan? (Short answer: Yes.)
Thankfully, we got the answer to No. 1 quickly, again thanks to a friendly neighbor: We called Leon Worden, president of SCVTV, who agreed to let us bring our page layout computers and staffers to the SCVTV studios in Newhall so we could produce the newspaper there. Thanks to SCVTV and some quick work by our news, photo and sports staff, we made deadline that night — and The Signal still has not missed a scheduled edition in its nearly 100-year history.
It was a reminder, though: The next quake or other disaster will, inevitably, present itself. Not to be overly ominous about it, but when it comes to quakes, we are certainly due.
We know the first responders and local government put a great deal of effort into preparing for such things, but for us, this power outage served as a reminder that we have some planning and updating to do, to make sure we’re prepared to do our part in delivering the news to the community the next time a 24-hour work day lands in our lap.
We’re working on an update to our disaster plan now. How about you?