Inside a dank, dusty closet sits a haphazard smorgasbord of supplies, forgotten in the corner of the journalism department’s tiny mailroom. Underneath a long blue tarp, hundreds of ketchup, mustard and relish packets can be found, along with a plastic bottle of lighter fluid. Left of that, next to three rolls of toilet paper and a half-empty bag of Maxi-pads, sits a 60-pack of juice-box-sized purified water that expired more than four years ago.
This hodgepodge assortment of supplies is the remnant of an emergency kit, only to be officially accessed under dire or even life-threatening circumstances. But even if the contents are laughable, the kit is at least an attempt to safeguard the department when the next big earthquake or emergency strikes the Central Coast.
This poorly arranged kit is more than other departments can claim. An informal questioning and inspection of departments ranging from education to engineering was met with either blank stares or an uneasy presentation of Band-Aids and antibiotic cream stuffed into a plastic lunch pail.
Vicki Stover, the information security officer for Cal Poly, claims that emergency kits, even one as haphazard as the journalism department’s, are “not required, but highly recommended” for all departments.
In light of recent and increasingly occurring natural disasters, it is alarming that Cal Poly is so apparently ill-equipped for emergencies that continue to remain a legitimate threat to the Central Coast.
A recent study by the County of San Luis Obispo’s Office of Emergency Services states that there are no less than 45 active or potentially active faults (including San Andreas) in the area ranging from San Simeon in the north to Oceano in the south.
The Associated Press also reports that “the (San Andreas) fault is fully loaded for the next big event,” but geophysicist Yuri Fialko of the Scripps Institution in La Jolla says that predicting exactly when that might happen is out of scientists’ control.
On a surprisingly warm day, late in December 2003, a 6.5 magnitude earthquake rattled Cal Poly, and Cindy Decker, administrative assistant for the journalism department, was one of the few people on campus. Decker remembers that campus was extraordinarily quiet that day; she and another colleague were the only people in the entire Graphic Art building. She recalls that initially she was unsure of the source of the rocking. “At first, you’re just like, ‘huh?’ . but it just kept going . I looked at Paul (her co-worker) and we couldn’t decide what to do – go outside, or stand in a doorway.”
Stover said an updated emergency earthquake plan won’t be made readily available to the entire campus until fall.
But even then, she says, the entire plan won’t be open knowledge to everyone. Only higher-up faculty like Stover or President Warren Baker, along with emergency response crews, will have access to the emergency reports because, as Stover explains, it “includes information on vulnerable places . like the location of hazardous materials.”
As for now, faculty, staff and students will stick to the emergency escape plans posted outside of classrooms, and hope that an earthquake won’t strike until after fall 2006.
Even with a lack of preparation and supplies, faculty like Decker remain unfazed by scientists’ warnings of the next big quake. “No . I’m not worried . there’s no way I can know where everyone is and how many students are in the building on any given day at any given time.”
Although Cal Poly appears severely under-prepared for any sort of disaster, Stover is quick to raise awareness of two new additions to the still-forming Cal Poly emergency program: evacu-tracs and Avian flu preparedness.
Evacu-tracs, chairs that can slide a disabled or injured person down stairs in case of an emergency, were recently installed in all Cal Poly stairways, while plans for the widely publicized Avian flu have already begun to take shape. Stover explained that Cal Poly has a system to track reports of absenteeism so that, in case of emergency, President Baker can decide whether to shut the school into isolation.
Stover said that “bird flu is a whole different type of emergency and people are definitely very worried about it,” while agreeing that the school should be prepared for it. She knows that the main reason for this sort of attention and preparation is that “people get really interested right after a disaster,” but she also worries that “since we haven’t had (an earthquake) in a while . people have stopped worrying.” She says that she is working hard to keep awareness up and communication flowing so that Cal Poly can handle the next big earthquake.
Although Stover was quick to point out recent accomplishments of the Office of Emergency Services, she was also quick to gloss over important issues that could affect all of Cal Poly during the next big earthquake. “We know we have about three days’ worth of food and water . not enough for all 18,000 students, faculty and staff, but enough for normal student traffic.” She then quickly changed the subject back to the completion date of the updated emergency plan.
Although Cal Poly has fallen behind in earthquake preparedness, Stover is still confident in the resiliency of campus buildings and the ability of faculty, staff, students and the community to work together if an earthquake were to rattle the Central Coast. “If an 8.0 earthquake were to hit campus tomorrow, I believe there would only be limited damage to buildings, depending on what foundation they lie on, and most likely, all of the people would be OK . people might panic, but we should be OK.”