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Examining disaster preparedness at Mills

Twenty years ago the Loma Prieta earthquake struck the Bay Area at an estimated 7.0 magnitude on the Richter scale. 63 people were killed, thousands more wounded and billions of dollars in damage resulted. While a portion of Interstate 880 in Oakland even collapsed, the Mills College campus was left relatively unscathed. But is the College prepared for any futures disasters which might hit?

Initial reports from the Mills College campus newspaper The Weekly found few damages resulting from the 1989 quake. The damages included cracks in walls, plaster falling from the ceilings in Mills Hall and a shift in the position of the chimney in Warren Olney Hall. According to the reports, as a safety precaution the chimney was dismantled. Officials later found in an inspection of Mills Hall that there was more damage than previously reported. The building’s condition had deteriorated and experts determined it would not withstand further stress. Many offices in Mills Hall were relocated to other buildings while the structure was renovated.

An earthquake of the Loma Prieta’s magnitude hasn’t occurred since but the threat is always present.

The Hayward Fault line runs directly through the Mills campus, right behind Warren Olney Hall. It hasn’t had considerable seismic activity since 1868 but according to a recent study conducted by the United States Geological Survey, the fault is a “tectonic time bomb, due anytime for another magnitude 6.8 to 7.0 earthquake.”

If such a time bomb explodes, is Mills prepared and ready with a comprehensive emergency plan?

The College says it is, but authorities on campus have not delved into the specifics.

Many campus buildings, including the Littlefield Concert Hall, have been renovated to ensure their ability to withstand seismic activity. Yet when The Campanil asked for the safety codes for buildings on campus officials gave only general comments instead.

“For all new construction and renovated construction, we do seismic improvements and have structural engineers advise on the improvements,” said Director for Operations Renee Jadushlever.

Other representatives from Campus Facilities failed to comment further on the issue.

“I think our preparedness overall is good,” said Joi Lewis, Dean of Student Life and Vice Provost. She explained that the work of Jadushlever has helped her feel confident.

“The College takes the safety of students and the Mills community very seriously,” said Jadushlever. “It is among our top priorities.”

In the event of an emergency, Jadushlever explained that each building has an evacuation plan visibly posted as well as a building coordinator who is responsible for informing building occupants and residents of safety procedures.

Some students, such as senior Tashina Manyak, are unaware of these evacuation plans.

“If an emergency were to occur, I don’t think I’d really know what to do,” said Manyak. “I definitely don’t feel informed.”

Jadushlever also said Mills practices safety drills several times a year and works closely with local agencies such as the Red Cross and the Oakland Fire Department on related issues. Yet drills are, at least informally, understood to be optional for those on campus when the drills occur.

Niviece Robinson, assistant director of Campus Safety, explained that if Mills community members were forced to remain on campus shelter would be dependent upon the situation.

“Where everyone would be depends on the emergency,” said Robinson. “Haas is the designated shelter location presently.” She also said that emergency tents are available.

A comprehensive food plan is also intact. According to Robinson, perishables from the Bon Appetit cafes on campus would be used first, and then back up preserved foods, kept by campus dining services.

“The College maintains a food reserve that will feed 1,000 for three days,” said Jadushlever.

Mills also has a large supply of military rations, which Robinson said would be used as a last resort. Rations are currently being stored at Public Safety offices and have a shelf life of five years. Robinson explained that the back up foods and rations are checked every six months and replaced as necessary.

According to Robinson, many members of the Mills community, including Public Safety officers and building safety coordinators, are trained as first responders in emergency situations. They can administer general first aid as well as CPR, and would be in charge should an emergency occur.

Robinson also emphasized the importance of personal preparation among students and encouraged them to have their own first aid kits and emergency supplies as well.

“We each have the skills within us to survive,” said Robinson. “It is important to make a kit, have a plan, and practice.”

Many students such as Manyak aren’t prepared. “No, I don’t have a first aid kit,” she said.

Student Kirin Khan said that she felt very safe at Mills overall, in terms of natural disasters, but also voiced some concerns.

“We don’t have a lot of drainage systems,” said Khan. “And I wonder about the disabled. Overall though, I feel like Mills is built to last.”