Why Pepperdine Ignored Mandatory Evacuations
On Friday, November 9, roughly 3,000 to 4,000 Pepperdine students and faculty were given instructions to remain on campus despite mandatory evacuation notices for the area. As fire crews battled flames, students were trapped inside the campus, with evacuation options diminishing over time. The University received immense backlash from both residents of the City of Malibu and the parents of students who couldn’t leave.
Many community residents were upset because they felt their neighborhoods didn’t receive enough attention as the University was prioritized. The Woolsey fire claimed countless properties and a growing body count (56 deceased from combined fires as of 5:30 AM 11/15/2018). The first priority of any emergency response team is life preservation, so fire teams were dispatched to the University and other areas where people were reported trapped. Only 2 of the 4 teams remained on campus, however. The coordinated fire fighting effort has achieved 52% containment of the 96,000+ acres burned in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. Full containment is projected for November 19. Next week’s rain, which was anticipated to start on Tuesday just a few days ago, has now moved up to Friday of next week. The rare/sporadic sprinkles California has been getting marks the 7’th year of a devastating drought that’s causing perfect conditions for California’s recent the mega fires. All in all it’s a cluster fuck that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
Thank you, @PresidentBenton. I was a student in Malibu during the 1985 fire, and my suitemates and I evacuated with the incomplete information available to us. Our trip to Camarillo was far more dangerous & terrifying than remaining on campus would have been.— AsilomarKnitter (@AsilomarKnitter) November 10, 2018
But back to Pepperdine. Parents of students felt that it was safer to follow the area’s evacuation requests rather than remain near the growing fire. However Pepperdine maintained its Shelter in Place protocol based on their experience with the Piuma fire in 1985, one of 3 simultaneously active fires in the area, which burned as close as 30 yards near some campus buildings. Students proceeded to evacuate in the night and many were stuck in gridlock near approaching flames. Since then, the University developed fire protocol, which it successfully implemented in a handful of major fires over the decades. Pepperdine, like most organizations, has an Emergency Operations Plan that it enacts when any man-made or natural disaster strikes. The plan is developed by the Emergency Operations Committee of the University and is reviewed by the LA County Fire Department regularly. The campus continues its fire preparedness with several preventative steps such as building with fire-resistant materials, annual brush clearing and fire-resistant landscaping. There are two pre-designated shelters on campus that provide food, water and medical services. Given the traffic conditions around the Malibu campus, the Shelter-In-Place strategy has historically proven to be the safest bet in these types of emergencies.
The alternative is unimaginable. With 50 mph winds, the fire spread faster than cars could drive along the congested PCH, notorious for stopped traffic. Adding the 3,000 people who are at Pepperdine on any given day would only add to the Carmageddon. The other option would be to release people in sections. But which groups get to leave and which ones get to stay? What about the students without cars? Imagine driving or biking in that inferno, with rolling embers all around. No thanks. God forbid even one casualty occurred. It’s a damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
But it’s much easier to calmly evaluate emergency protocol when your kid isn’t a hop skip and a jump away from burning mountains and high speed winds. Parents and students were terrified as the dramatic imagery filled TV and online news channels. Alumni tweeted memories of their own experiences in the previous fires that threatened the campus.
At the moment, evacuations are being lifted however access to the school is still restricted. Staff are being instructed in how to resume operations remotely throughout the week and students have received instructions on online and remote learning.