Southern California is due for the earthquake that experts and residents alike have dubbed “The Big One,” according to seismologists at the California Institute of Technology.
“The further in time we go away from a big event, the less likely something is going to happen,” said Jennifer Andrews, a Caltech seismologist. “But we are overdue for ‘The Big One.’”
After a number of earthquakes and aftershocks hit the Southland during this past Fourth of July weekend, with the Ridgecrest Earthquake having hit a 7.1-magnitude on the Richter Scale, residents and experts in Santa Clarita are returning and preparing for this idea that “The Big One” could happen any day.
Since those quakes, residents throughout Santa Clarita have taken stock of their earthquake supplies and community leaders and medical professionals have reaffirmed their plans in the event that an earthquake as large and as close to Santa Clarita as say the 1994 Northridge Earthquake hits again.
And, based on the science, that reality could be in the near future.
“Ridgecrest is not an indication that it’s the apocalypse or anything like that,” said Andrews, adding the Ridgecrest line is a fault that ruptured is a part of the Little Lake fault zone, a distance away from San Andreas.
Basically geologists have looked back at the San Andreas, and found out how often the fault line had caused a 7- or 8-point magnitude earthquake on the richter scale, and they then decide a repeat rate. The San Andreas, according to Andrews, is supposed to record one of that size at least once every 150-200 years, depending on which section of the fault you look at.
In reference to the southern portion of the San Andreas fault — which, at times, runs parallel to the Santa Clarita Valley — has not gone off at that magnitude in approximately 300 years, she said.
“That’s really quite a long time for us to not have had a San Andreas, big earthquake,” Andrews said. “But it’s not predictable … and it’s not like clockwork.”
Geographically speaking, Santa Clarita not only sits near the San Andreas faultline, but also sits on San Gabriel fault line, there’s the Sierra Madre fault zones, and the blind-thrust fault, Northridge.
“There are thrust faults running through Santa Clarita, and there are possibly some we don’t know are there,” said Andrews.
Andrews did add, however, the San Gabriel fault line has a much longer “slip rate,” and it’s “definitely not as active.”
“It’s not one of the most active faults in Southern California, but we can’t say for definite when we would expect it to move,” she said.
The Northridge earthquake was a 6.7 on the richter scale, and Ridgecrest was a 7.1, but the damage and effect an earthquake has on people is all about the location of the epicenter.
“If that had been in downtown Los Angeles, it would have been significantly damaging,” said Andrews. “Ridgecrest was in a relatively sparsely populated area, but if you had relocated it to one of our densely populated areas, you would have seen significant damage.”
In addition to causing road closures, damaging buildings, possibly bringing down items overhanging both outdoor and indoor, quakes can also damage and rupture utility lines underneath the ground.
City, Henry Mayo
Caltech is not alone in reviewing what they can about the possibility of “The Big One,” with City of Santa Clarita officials informing residents about what work they’re doing in anticipation of an event, Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital expanding its assets and families revisiting their emergency plans.
According to Donna Nuzzi, the emergency services supervisor with the city, one of the city’s priorities has been to review infrastructure, ensure that it’s up to code, and increase internal infrastructures that improve communication in the aftermath of an event.
“Immediately after, our concerns will be to do our due diligence, putting out good public information, we’ll be supporting evacuations were needed with our transportation and making sure shelters are open,” said Nuzzi. “We need to get an assessment of the infrastructure the roads and let people know what roads are open and coordinating with the water agencies to make sure the water is safe.”
Nuzzi said the city staff has training sessions with their staff to prepare for these instances and needs in the community and have established an emergency texting system, a warning system and can push information out through various social platforms.
She said they also coordinate with Henry Mayo, and make sure they’ll know how to communicate and react in the event of a major earthquake.
In 2004, Henry Mayo became one of L.A. County’s 13 Disaster Resource Centers, meaning that they work with the 12 other DRC’s in the county planning, training and exercising together. And within the last month, they worked in a tabletop exercise with multiple hospitals in the region to run internal flooding exercises, one of the consequences of earthquakes, according to Terry Stone, the Henry Mayo emergency manager.
Stone and a fellow emergency manager developed a program called the 15 ’til 50 Mass Casualty Incident Response Program, which could be used in a situation such as a major earthquake.
“It uses a planned deployment of staff, supplies and equipment to achieve fully functional triage and treatment areas in 15 minutes or less to manage 50 patients or more,” Stone said. “All levels of hospital staff are trained in their roles minimizing the initial chaos accompanying an MCI.”
“Our reality changes everyday, but our commitment to preparedness is a constant reality for Henry Mayo and our wonderful community,” Stone added.
Nuzzi said there are a number of ways families should be prepared for an earthquake, with the first steps being having a kit prepared and making your home earthquake-resilient.
“Reduce hazards in every room,” she said. “You want to think about what could be a problem here, how could I get injured and reduce that.”
Nuzzi, when she talks to people about being prepared for earthquakes, will touch on the idea of cascading danger: Something that may seem like a singular issue, but could turn into a multitude of problems. For instance, she said, televisions falling down can not only land on someone, but send glass everywhere. If candles are in your home, those can cause a fire.
Brendie Heter, a Santa Clarita mother of three young boys who also teaches emergency preparedness, says she’s taken information from the city and other emergency systems and put them into practice with her children.
“We do a drill with the boys called ‘Rabbits in a Hole,’” said Heter, explaining a system that teaches her young children the importance of protecting their body and head during an earthquake. “It’s not meant to be scary, because we don’t want them to be afraid; we want them to be prepared.”
Not only does she teach her sons how to protect themselves, but Heter has also taught them where to go, or what they’re supposed to do depending on where they are in certain places in their house.
Additionally, they know where to get their emergency backpacks that not only have a flashlight and activity for them — like a toy or crayons — but where the food and emergency supplies are.
“I’ve got dehydrated milk and eggs, pasta, some cans of tomatoes, pancake mix, a propane stove, pot and pans for boiling water, gatorade powder and water,” said Heter. “I know some people go extra crazy on the food that they’re not going to eat, and when I’m teaching, I tell people it’s a really stressful situation so you have to figure out how to distress the situation.”
Heter said that the more prepared parents are, and have already planned out how to keep themselves and their children safe and as comfortable as possible in a situation, the calmer everyone will be.
“We gotta do it, because it’s just a way of life,” said Nuzzi. “Just like the way you learn to swim, you need to learn about various types of disasters.”
For more information
For more information on how to prepare you and your family for an emergency, the The City of Santa Clarita provides the Community Emergency Response Training (CERT) program.
It is designed to help families, neighborhoods, schools and businesses prepare for effective disaster/emergency response through training and preplanning. The next CERT program for fall session begins Sept. 7, and occurs on three consecutive Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.. For more information on how to register, visit www.santa-clarita.com/city-hall/departments/recreation-community-services-and-open-space/emergency-management/cert-program.