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Preparing for the Inevitable
Jack Vechil and Leah Praster of Dryden's Emergency Operations Center are coordinating the center's involvement in the Great California ShakeOut. Jack Vechil and Leah Praster of Dryden's Emergency Operations Center are coordinating the center's involvement in the "Great California ShakeOut," a Southern California disaster preparedness exercise set for Nov. 13. (NASA Photo by Tony Landis) Many Southern Californians saw walls swaying and items falling off shelves or out of cabinets. Some saw a few water lines rupturing in Chino, near the epicenter of the earthquake that rumbled through California on July 29. The event, which was felt as far away as Las Vegas, brought with it a feeling of terror for some.

Here's something to think about - that little temblor wasn't anything like what could happen, says Jack Vechil, Dryden's disaster preparedness coordinator. To prepare for the eventuality of a larger quake, an exercise called The Great California ShakeOut is set for Nov. 13. Southern California emergency service coordinators are planning for the exercise, which will be the largest disaster drill in U.S. history. Response to a magnitude-7.8 earthquake will be simulated.

Geophysicist Morgan Page of the U.S. Geological Survey's Pasadena, Calif., office at CalTech compared the Chino earthquake with the earthquake planned in the simulation.

"Each additional unit on the magnitude scale has approximately 30 times the energy. To translate this to the ShakeOut scenario, a magnitude-7.8 earthquake would have approximately 4,000 times the energy as the magnitude-5.4 earthquake we felt [on July 29]."

The event to be simulated Nov. 13 would be a drastically different one. While the recent quake was not strong enough to damage the structural integrity of buildings, "a magnitude-7.8 earthquake is likely to cause serious structural damage to buildings, disrupt water service (and) lead to fires," Page said.

The ShakeOut

The Nov. 13 exercise is intended to clarify how well prepared the state is for such an event and identify weak spots in preparedness. The idea, Vechil said, is to refine processes for better preparation for when the real thing happens. California has been a leader in disaster preparedness for decades.

While a 7.8 earthquake is not seen as "the big one," it would cause a devastating amount of damage if it hit a populated area, he said. The ShakeOut Website ( estimates fallout from such a quake would displace about nine million families. As part of the drill, responders will anticipate that in-ground infrastructure such as electric, gas or water pipes would be severely damaged. gives an overview of the Nov. 13 event and offers links to earthquake preparedness information. In addition, a computer simulation shows what the 7.8-magnitude quake might look like beginning near the Mexican border and extending through California and Nevada.

The Dryden Plan

While Dryden's role in the exercise has yet to be determined, the center's plan for protecting employees is already in place, Vechil said.

Water, blankets, tarps, medical supplies and other provisions are stored in 10 Conex boxes located in zones established around the center. Employees would be gathered at the Conex boxes after the earthquake ended, he said. The injured would be treated, personnel would be accounted for, and off-base conditions would be confirmed. The Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale hasn't been forgotten; it is treated as another zone.

Once it has been established that it is safe to leave the base, employees will be sent home. Vechil stressed, however, that the Edwards base commander may order exit gates closed until off-base assessments are in, to avoid creating additional emergency situations.

Dryden safety officers suggest employees keep at least minimal emergency supplies - a jacket, a blanket, food and water - in their vehicles and recommend that they go to their cars for temporary shelter as directed.

One critical way in which Dryden employees can take a role in disaster planning is by volunteering to be a fire warden. The fire warden program has been revived in recent years and volunteers are vital to accounting for employees following a disaster.

For information on becoming a fire warden, call Leah Praster, disaster preparedness administrative assistant, at ext. 6070.

Home Planning

While Dryden plans have the work situation covered, Vechil reminded employees that they must plan for their families.

"It's up to employees to do their own emergency planning," he said. "Three days is the conventional wisdom on how many days of supplies people should have, but people out here, in the desert, should have at least seven days of supplies."

Even if supplies gathered for an emergency are damaged in an earthquake, the act of collecting and storing them on a regular basis at least gets people into the mindset of what they need to do to survive, he added. In addition, housing may or may not be structurally sound, depending on the location of populated areas in relation to the quake's epicenter.

In short, people should have about three gallons of water per day per person for drinking, more for bathing, etc., and canned food items for at least seven days. It's also helpful to have items such as a first-aid kit, a flashlight with fresh batteries, and any vital medicines such as those for diabetics available in an alternate location. Relief in inland areas will likely take more time to arrive than it will in major population centers, Vechil said.

Used sparingly, water in a storage shed (though long-term food storage may not be practical) and a few items kept in employees' vehicles could last for a few days. In an emergency, an individual can make do with half a gallon of water per day. Additional water is needed for food or hygiene.

Command Center, Planning Effort

In addition, as part of efforts to prepare for emergency situations Dryden has established an Emergency Operations Center at the Safety Office in building 4850. Newer center facilities such as the gym, the medical office and the safety building have been constructed to higher standards intended to enable the structural integrity of the building to withstand the forces of an earthquake, Vechil said.

Dryden officials have committed to sustaining the center in the event of a disaster and have established a process through which recovery at the center would begin, Vechil said. A Disaster Preparedness Oversight Committee has been established to set parameters for defining emergency-response activity Committee members are Bart Henwood, Jerry McKee and Vechil. Associate Director for Management Gwen Young leads the group.

In a disaster, it's difficult to know what supplies might be available because the effects of the event might alter the availability of key resources. For that reason, Vechil said, disaster plans must be more general in methodology. One aspect of critical importance is communication. To meet that need, Dryden has invested in satellite phones and a large mobile satellite communication system that would be operational in an emergency when local communication systems are not.

Regardless of Dryden's role in the exercise, one thing is sure - center officials are planning for the safety of center staff and will help employees get themselves and their families through whatever comes.