I Felt It! The 2008 Chino Hills Earthquake

I’ve lived in Los Angeles for seven years and until today, I never felt a thing. I get fairly regular calls and e-mails from my family back east letting me know that they’ve heard about an earthquake in California on the national news. Until today, I always texted or called them back saying: “What did you hear? I didn’t feel a thing!” I didn’t feel a shake and I didn’t feel a roll-until today.

I was in my psychotherapist Ruth Anderson’s office trying to figure out why it is that I spend so much of my life living on edge-living in fear of what’s going to happen next. “How do people go through their lives,” I asked “without knowing what’s going to happen next?” There were only a few minutes left in my appointment when I started to feel dizzy-seasick-like the room we were sitting in was on a boat. The room rolled and swayed from side to side. The candle holders and decorative ornaments on her bookcase began to rattle, shake, and fall over on their sides. They chattered like teeth on a freezing man.

“I think we’re having an earthquake,” she said. “Just hang on.”

I nodded and sat back on her couch, almost relaxed for a second. What could be greater confirmation that most things in the world are out of my control than the ground rolling underneath my feet? In about 15 seconds it was over. We were quiet for a second, waiting for something more, but it was over.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

I was. “That’s the first earthquake I’ve ever felt out here,” I said. It was strange-like I suddenly felt that I had been initiated into some sort of club-a true Angeleno at last. We watched out the window as people evacuated, trudging along in two orderly lines.

“Was that it?” I asked. “Is that all?” I hoped that I didn’t sound too disappointed. Everyone I know that lived here when the Northridge earthquake hit in 1994 took earthquakes very seriously.

“There might be a few aftershocks, but for the most part, I think that’s it,” she said. We took a few moments to wrap up the session. “I guess that pretty much illustrates what we were talking about. You just can’t prepare yourself for everything that’s going to happen.”

I was impressed at how she tied it all together. She always knew how to make things make sense.

As I walked back to my car, I noticed that the sidewalks were unusually crowded. The building that I had been in, the medical offices across the street and the bank next door had all evacuated, and employees were chatting to each other and trying to get cell phone reception. I took me about fifteen minutes after the quake before I could get any reception myself.

I started thinking about how it was good that people were organized and had a plan that they put into place when emergencies happened. Then, I thought back to when I had been on the safety team for an office that I had worked in, and thought I remembered that you WEREN’T supposed to go outside after an earthquake. I was sure that I had been trained to tell people to get in a doorway or under a sturdy piece of furniture for protection, but NOT to go outside because there could be down power lines, gas lines or unstable buildings. I did some internet research when I got home and found that the California Department of Conservation recommends that during and immediately after an earthquake:

1.”If you’re indoors, stay there.”

2.”If you’re outdoors, get out in the open and stay clear of buildings, power lines or anything that could fall on you.” (California Department of Conservation, 2007)

Traffic was still moving on the streets. I guessed that some people that were driving probably didn’t feel the quake and just kept driving. I felt comfortable enough to get into the car and drive home. On my drive home, I saw buildings that had been evacuated all over. The sidewalks in Westwood Village were crowded with people who had evacuated stores and restaurants. I didn’t see any structural damage to any of the buildings in the area. I wondered what the scene would have been like if it had been a more significant earthquake. I also wondered why so many people in so many buildings all had the idea that they should go outside. Had people just seen their neighbors going outside and assumed that they should do the same? Did people just assume that emergency procedures for a fire or other disaster applied to an earthquake as well? Did people just not know what to do?

I am currently a graduate student at UCLA and I’m linked into their emergency alert system known as “Bruin Alert.” About forty minutes after the quake, I got a text message on my phone that had a series of numbers and letters. I got another text a few minutes later that stated “Earthquake advisory. Remain calm. Report damage. Tune to AM radio and local news for info.” Then a got a couple more texts with numbers and symbols throughout the rest of the afternoon.

One thing that I learned from my first real California earthquake experience is that despite having a lot more experience with earthquakes than I do, most people having conflicting ideas on what the best and safest things are to do in an earthquake. Because the damage from today’s earthquake was minor, maybe it will give Californians a chance to check in with themselves and their co-workers on the best ways to prepare for emergencies.

But,…as my therapist Ruth so eloquently said, “there are some things you just can’t prepare for.”

I think it’s true.

If today’s earthquake had been a more serious one, I wonder how much emergency preparations and procedures would have come into play. There was a surge in the popularity of “emergency preparedness” after 9-11, but, like all fads, I think most people have have become less dedicated to readying themselves for a disaster. I wonder how we’ll fare when the city is hit with a more serious challenge.

When I got home (about 10 miles east of where my appointment had been), I asked my husband Greg what he had done when the quake hit. He said: “Well,..the FIRST thing I did was save the GAME I was playing. Then, I put the dog under one arm and held onto the TV with the other and just stood in the doorway. It was a slow motion earthquake. We just rolled with it.”

That was good, I thought-save the game, then the dog, then the TV!

None of our friends or neighbors seemed strongly affected by the earthquake either, but it was still the first thing that everyone was talking about.

My neighbor Matt Pinkus pointed out that one of the reasons that there was so little damage is that a lot of structural improvements were made to buildings in the area since the Northridge earthquake in 1994.
Tiffany Park at Tiffany’s Pet Shop mentioned the Northridge earthquake too. “That one was a bang,” she said. “This one was a roll. Not too bad.”

Not too bad at all. I’d have to agree, although the media coverage has made the quake look pretty intense. I have seen some reports of structural damages on the local news, but nothing about anyone really being hurt.

So, I made it through my first California earthquake-and I’m not scared of earthquakes anymore. That’s one less thing to live in fear of. As for the rest of my fears, I’m guessing that I’m going to need a LOT more sessions to figure those out!!!

References:

California Department of Conservation. (2007). What to do in an earthquake. Retrieved July 29, 2008 from: http://www.consrv.ca.gov/index/Earthquakes/Pages/qh_earthquakes_what.aspx

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