BY JULIE FARREN
The 6.4 and 7.1 earthquakes that struck the community of Ridgecrest over two days late last week has been enough of a wake-up call for residents in the San Gorgonio Pass area and other regions to realize they have to be ready for such a disaster.
“In the early days of a disaster, it’s going to be up to the individual residents to sustain themselves,” said Shane Reichardt, senior public information specialist for the County of Riverside Emergency Management Department.
The earthquakes that hit on the morning of July 4 and the evening of July 5 started electrical fires at houses in Ridgecrest, leaving families homeless, and more residents seeking shelter and food at a nearby high school.
Cracks in the road have created unsafe driving conditions in Ridgecrest and Trona.
Communities also will be without water, food and electricity for an undetermined amount of time.
For Banning and Beaumont, which have populations of 31,270 and close to 48,000, there still are not enough resources in the respective city governments to take care of all of the residents during a long-term disaster.
Although earthquakes of these magnitudes can be frightening, Reichardt said they do not generate enough fear for people to change their habits for any longer than a couple of days.
One of Banning’s signature events is its Disaster Preparedness Expo, which the city has sponsored for 13 years.
Former Banning City Councilmember Debbie Franklin was among concerned residents who worked together to start the expo.
The purpose of the expo has been to educate the public about being prepared for an earthquake and direct them toward the resources they need to survive. Franklin agrees that city cannot provide for all of its residents.
She also touched on another point.
“People think about the people in their families. They have to think about the animals,” she said.
The pets will need to have enough water and food to survive for 72 hours or a week or more and they also will need their medications — just like their human owners.
Lucy Jones, a seismologist at the California Institute of Technology who has been featured prominently at press conferences this past week, appeared at the 2017 and 2018 expos in Banning with the same message.
In an article in the Record Gazette in 2017, Jones said that “residents of Banning were five times more likely to be exposed to earthquakes than residents of the rest of the state.”
Jones said there is usually 100 to 150 years between earthquakes and as of 2017, it had been 300 years.
Jones said that there are four major aqueducts that cross the San Andreas Fault which would be disrupted in a 7.8 earthquake.
An earthquake travels two miles per second, Jones says.
Hospitals are required to have a three-day supply of water for operations, Jones said.
A community can survive after an earthquake, but that also depends on how well-prepared they are for a disaster, Jones said.
At that same expo, Glenn Pomeroy, CEO of the California Earthquake Authority, said that California has a 99 percent chance of experiencing a 6.2 earthquake or larger and a 75 percent change of 7.0 or greater — an unsettling but realistic observation considering last week’s back-to-back earthquakes.
School districts also have been utilizing the Great American Shakeout campaign as a formula for preparing students and staff for earthquake preparedness when class is in session.
The Shakeout is held every October and 515 schools in Riverside County participate, according to Craig Petinak, director of public relations and communications services for Riverside County Office of Education.
Petinak said that a re-unification plan is in place for students and parents should any disaster, whether it be an earthquake, fire or active shooter incident.
In the event of an earthquake, students would be bused away from the impact area to a safer site.
Beaumont students would be externally evacuated to Noble Creek Community Park should an earthquake happen, said Nancy Law, office manager for the Beaumont-Cherry Valley Recreation and Park District.
Beaumont schools director of risk management Mareesa Evans said the Beaumont school board approved a memorandum of understanding between the school district and the park district last May.
The children would remain under tents with water and food until their parents could reunite with them, Evans said.
Noble Creek has 60 acres and enough room to hold all of the school district’s students, and also could use Bogart Park if needed, Law said.
Most of Banning’s schools are located next to parks should the school district need sites for reunification, said Janet Gray, Title IX compliance officer for the Banning Unified School District.
This will be the 12th year that Banning students will participate in the Great American Shakeout in October, Gray said.
Kindergarten through eighth-grade students must have four practices a year while the high school students have drills twice a year, Gray said.
During a drill, students are advised to go outside to their designated meeting area, Gray said.
Students and staff must follow the three signs to their evacuation area and remain there for reunification, Gray said.
The Banning school district has approximately 5,000 students.
The Beaumont Police Department was able to implement its operational protocol during the July 4 and 5 earthquakes, said Deputy Chief Anthony Onodera.
Eight patrol officers did their checks on July 4 and five patrol officers did their checks on July 5.
“It appeared to work so now we are going to formalize it as a protocol,” said Onodera.
The officers had to check critical infrastructure such as overpasses, city streets, transit and sewer plants.
If Beaumont had any major damage, the Police Department would notify the city and they could ask for assistance from the state, Onodera said.
Onodera and Lt. Mark Keyser looked at a similar plan used by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department for use in Beaumont.
Onodera said that it took the officers an hour to report back to Keyser that there was no damage in Beaumont.
If an earthquake would occur in the Pass area, San Gorgonio Memorial Hospital has an emergency operations plan that can cover the facility for up to 96 hours, said Joey Hunter, director of security, safety and emergency preparedness.
This plan applies to all disasters, Hunter said.
In case of a disaster, the hospital can operate for two or more weeks, Hunter said.
The hospital has two back-up generators and enough fuel during a power outage to last for up to 30 days, or more.
Water also would be available for patients and staff for 96 hours, Hunter said.
Non-perishable and perishable food also would be available.
Hunter said that if the hospital had to evacuate, there is a memorandum of understanding between the hospital and the Riverside Emergency Management Department and American Medical Response.
The hospital also participates in the Great American Shakeout. Hunter said that the hospital holds a table top exercise that gives staff an opportunity to sit and discuss earthquake preparedeness plans.
They also test out those ideas during a functional program, Hunter said.
On July 8, the committee met to discuss how they handled the challenges of the actual earthquake. Everyone agreed that they did a good job, making sure that patients and staff were well taken care of and felt safe, Hunter said.
The two quakes caused no external or internal damage to the hospttal, Hunter said.
Jeanne Woo, senior disaster programs manager for the American Red Cross in Los Angeles, said that the shelter at the Kerr McGee Community Center was set up the night of the second quake on July 5 in Ridgecrest.
Woo said there was no immediate need that first night from the community, but Friday night’s foreshock generated a lot of fear among residents.
The shelter was set up at the Kerr McGee Community Center. At its peak, there were 150 people utilizing the shelter with its cots, three meals a day, blankets, personal hygiene kits and water each day.
The Red Cross also has been providing mental health officials, nurses and spiritual care personnel for the residents in need.
Some people have been using the parking lots and grass area instead of staying inside the shelter.
The number of people at the shelter has decreased by 20 to 30 each day, Woo said.
The American Red Cross was distributing vans of water on Monday in Ridgecrest, Woo said.