Early Wednesday, Pasadena residents felt a small earthquake. The jolt, a 3.7 earthquake centered near Inglewood, left many residents wondering how the city would respond during the Safer at Home order if a major quake struck the area.
Orders issued requiring businesses to close and local residents to stay home could aid local response if a big quake were to hit. Communications are ongoing throughout the region and most families are already together, sheltering in place at home.
“Schools are not in session,” said Lisa Derderian, city spokesperson and emergency management coordinator. “A lot of businesses are closed down at this time. Restaurants aren’t open, so people are at home, so that would alleviate a lot of potential rescues or responses to these areas that we would normally prioritize.”
Officials would not have to prioritize windshield surveys where they drive through town checking certain areas and personnel. Because people have been sheltering in place, many of them have already purchased food, water and toilet paper and other supplies.
“Obviously the expected quick response for everybody is drop, cover, hold on. Were we to have an earthquake in a normal time, overnight, most people would be at home in their beds. So right now that situation, it’s the same for us all through the day. We’re all in our own space as we’re all trying to deal with it,” noted Caltech Staff Seismologist Dr. Jennifer Andrews.
However, if the city opened shelters, it would have to do so methodically to avoid spreading the virus and maintain social distancing.
That’s where the risk could occur.
As local residents sought to help their neighbors, they could spread the virus.
And if there is an earthquake and rescue and help is needed, protocols have changed a bit. Dispatchers are now asking questions about the caller’s
health, which could be relayed to the officers or the firefighters in the field if there is a cause for concern.
Also many hotels and motels may not be up and running or may be used for other purposes right now, so the city may not be able to use them in an emergency. “[There are] a lot different variables there.”
Derderian also noted that Pasadena may not get the help from the neighboring jurisdictions in other cities like we typically would because their staff is dedicated to the COVID-19 response.
“And we want people to still be prepared for any other type of disaster, whether it be wildfires, we’re going to see some temperatures this weekend in the 90s, some potential wind. So mother nature doesn’t stop,” said Derderian.
Caltech’s response, however, would remain the same, but officials would continue to practice social distancing, and information would be released online.
“We’re very lucky in that much of our work can be done remotely,” said Andrews. “We’re all setting up in our own spaces at home. We’re able to access all of the data at the Caltech site. COVID-19 has affected our field team, unless it’s a real emergency, like all of our sensors go down, they’re not allowed out into the field. So fortunately everything is kept up and running really well so far.”
The seismolab at Caltech does have contingencies in place for how they would distribute information in case of a major earthquake.
“Through conference calls, telephone calls, telephone interviews, and we do have the capability to stream videos of us answering questions. So hopefully we’d still be able to put information out there as rapidly as possible.”
Yesterday’s quake was not the first one since the pandemic began. Earlier this month, a 4.9-magnitude temblor shook the San Jacinto fault.
“If we were to have evacuation orders and things like that, having your go kit, your preparedness kit, if you do have to evacuate a building, make sure you’ve got your hand sanitizer, a mask or a couple of masks in there if you have them. So that you’ve got the extra equipment that we need in this time of pandemic,” cautioned Andrews.