California is due for a major earthquake, but is USC ready to combat it?

Faculty and students share concerns and tips for surviving “The Big One.”

(Landscape of Los Angeles with smug)

Today, the death toll for the Turkey-Syria earthquake hit 20,000. The devastating quake acts as an ominous reminder for Californians. “The Big One” looms in the distance, but how far?

“We cannot predict earthquakes,” said USC professor of earth sciences Yehuda Ben-Zion. “We are never fully prepared.”

Yet the level of damage is calculable. A 2008 study by the U.S. Geological Survey found that a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, like the one that hit Turkey-Syria, would lead to thousands of deaths and injuries and $200 billion in damage here in Southern California.

“The issue is not so much lack of knowledge of what needs to be done,” Ben-Zion said. “But it comes with a price tag. So it’s a political decision.”

In October 2015, California began regulating seismic protocols among 14,000 projects spread throughout California in an effort to ensure that homes, buildings and skyscrapers would be able to stand tall throughout a high magnitude quake.

Large earthquakes are also a catalyst for landslides, tsunamis and ground ruptures, all of which can liquefy soil and break gas lines. Liquefaction can cause buildings to sink or collapse while broken gas lines can start fires, both further complicating the rescue and recovery process.

Ben-Zion said that California has better infrastructure, one that is more equipped to withstand earthquakes and the damage they cause, when compared to Turkey or Syria. However, there is still a lot to do. Strengthening structures, educating citizens and developing prediction technology are just a few of his suggestions.

USC is taking heed. Each year, USC officials take part in “The Great Shakeout,” a nationwide event promoting earthquake preparedness. This ensures that authorities know what to do in the event of an emergency and also keeps the USC earthquake preparedness policy up to date.

Steve Goldfarb, the director of fire safety, emergency management and business continuity at USC, said that the department practices year-round preparedness.

“There’s a lot of elements to our plan,” Goldfarb said. “Practicing drop, cover and hold on, our teams practicing their response, checking all of our supplies and equipment.”

Preparation in areas near a fault are especially crucial. Major earthquakes along the San Andreas fault happen every 200 to 300 years.

The last big shock hit the fault in 1857.

Los Angeles isn’t directly on the fault line. San Andreas runs through Palmdale and San Bernandino — 37 miles from L.A. But that might not leave L.A. in the clear. Ben-Zion said that the Turkey-Syria earthquake occurred on a system of complex fault lines, very similar to the San Andreas fault. That means a quake at the fault can leave disastrous conditions that ripple far beyond the epicenter. The catastrophe can stretch for miles.

“We’ve been told that since [we were] kids and having gone through two earthquakes that have been quite large, I can say it is scary,” Michelle Mendoza, a freshman from the Central Valley, said. “If I’m inside my [Birnkrant] dorm, I would die because that place is so unsafe. The exits are bad, and we can’t even use the stairs.”

For students who have never felt an earthquake before, fear is distant.

“Coming from New Jersey where we don’t have earthquakes, [it] is something that I never thought or worried about,” said sophomore Olivia Omelczuk.

The USC Fire Safety and Emergency Planning website has the most information on the school’s plan. It details steps for students to take during the earthquake, aftershock, aftermath and evacuation.

Goldfarb preached the necessity of students knowing what to do in emergency situations.

“We’re in Southern California, where earthquakes happen,” Goldfarb said. “We know it, so we prepare for it.”