Shaken, But Not Stirred

The Santa Barbara Community is Earthquake and Tsunami Safe

Amy Chase/Staff Illustrator

Gwendolyn Wu
Campus Beat Reporter

Year after year, Isla Vista residents face the dangers of cliff erosion and, most recently, minor floods associated with El Niño. However, a bigger, long-term problem looms on the horizon — quite literally. What happens if there’s an earthquake and tsunami in Santa Barbara?

Earthquakes are the most common natural disaster in California. Santa Barbara is home to the Ventura, San Cayetano and Red Mountain faults, and if all three slip at the same time, a magnitude 8.0 earthquake could hit the region.

A string of earthquakes in Ojai (the largest of which, a magnitude 4.2, was felt in Isla Vista and Santa Barbara) prompted students to take to social media to discuss the tremor. Students are acutely aware of their surroundings and, hopefully, of how to react in such a situation, but it raises a question about how the University of California, Santa Barbara will react to protect their students, faculty and surrounding area.

For a school that prides itself on its proximity to the beach (surf culture, the fall quarter fight for oceanside houses and campus tours that lead straight to residence halls with ocean views all come to mind), education about natural disaster safety varies. Local law enforcement gives advice on how to avoid falling from balconies or cliffs on Del Playa Drive, and campus and community resources are in full force for Halloween and Deltopia. Little feels freely given in the way of earthquake safety tips, but the campus and county does work on it.

According to Jim Caesar, the campus emergency manager with the Environmental Health & Safety’s Business Continuity & Emergency Planning division, UCSB is the only university in the nation that is certified tsunami-ready according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In fact, the university prepares year-round for a natural disaster, oftentimes behind-the-scenes.

For instance, during commencement, the university keeps the bus gate on Sabado Tarde open as families filter in and out to attend graduation ceremonies. This also serves as a way for the Environmental Health & Safety Office to test the system of letting hundreds of cars out of campus if Highway 217 floods and potentially strands community members. With much of the surrounding area built on marshes and wetlands, the chances of a tsunami flooding low-lying areas can be problematic for people in those areas. However, people would be able to go through Isla Vista and Goleta to Highway 101.

“It would not go above the cliffs and beaches, [but] it would go into our lagoon, touch the lawn of the UCen and impact [Highway] 217 and the airport,” Caesar said in regards to the areas it would impact. Caesar says that there would be a three meter tidal surge at most and the golden rule for those in danger would be to get to high ground.

The campus Community Emergency Response Team hosts a free Emergency Training Program every winter quarter in conjunction with Associated Students and UCSB’s American Red Cross Club, providing supplies and training attendees on how to react in emergency situations. The county does additional trainings in the community to teach community members in English and Spanish how to prepare for a natural disaster.

Campus workers aren’t the only ones preparing for the community. Santa Barbara’s Orfalea Foundation has donated $8.1 million to the county to help officials prepare in case of an emergency. The foundation states that it prioritizes prevention over intervention, and that it is a driving principle for their work.

Students and other community members may not have much to worry about if this is the case. The university encourages people to practice keeping an emergency water supply, batteries and first aid kit, and additional information is posted around campus. There is a pamphlet at each residence hall front desk with contact information and instructions in case of emergency.

For more information, residents can look to the Environmental Health & Safety services on campus or the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management.

Gwendolyn Wu is a third year double majoring in history and sociology, and is the 2016-2017 Executive Content Editor of The Bottom Line. She grew up in the San Fernando Valley and attended Cleveland High School, and is interested in pursuing journalism as a career. When not poring over history books, she's watching Cutthroat Kitchen and mentoring first year students.