John Pryor

John Pryor

When the next major earthquake occurs in Kern County, each of us could be at work, home, asleep in bed, school, in a car or anywhere else you can imagine.

For example, in July 1952, I was attending U.S. Navy Officer Candidate School on Terminal Island in Long Beach with hundreds of other officer candidates from across the US. The Tehachapi earthquake was strongly felt even that far away. We all ran out of our barracks into the open and asked each other what had just happened.

None of us knew what to do.

The next month, Bakersfield suffered extensive damage in an aftershock from the earlier Tehachapi earthquake. Some buddies and I were playing cards around a dining room table when shaking began. We saw the chandelier above us swing back and forth. Trees outside seemed to be moving laterally in different directions at the same time.

None of us knew what to do.

Later that same month, I was at the Fox Theatre when another major aftershock occurred. About half of the audience ran out of the theatre. The rest of us simply stayed seated.

None of us knew what to do.

At 5:04 p.m. Oct. 17, 1989, I was in San Francisco aboard a plane just taking off for Bakersfield. The pilot reported that the control tower at SFO has been evacuated. We flew over Candlestick Park where the World Series was underway – just as the lights went out. Then the pilot announced that an entire section of the Bay Bridge had collapsed -- and cars were falling into the Bay.

None of us knew what to do.

As severe as was the shaking in these events, the “really big one” is yet to come. It will, by comparison, make these earlier events seem almost minor.

It is imperative that we know what to do.

Our scientific community predicts an earthquake of a much higher magnitude — much like that which occurred here in 1857 — The Fort Tejon earthquake. It had a magnitude of about 30 times more intensity than any earthquakes we’ve personally experienced more recently.

We must be prepared for the next event and its higher probability of not only major damage but also many more fatalities. According to our scientific community, we are overdue for such an event. Historically, they have occurred about every 150 years. We are 12 years overdue by this standard.

Our best and easiest way to begin preparation is to experience a drill. Going through the motions prepares us for the real thing. That’s the reason for the question in the above headline. The 12th annual Great California ShakeOut is scheduled for 10:17 a.m. Oct. 17 — wherever you may be.

You are strongly encouraged to register for this drill at — along with the 8,600,000 Californians who already have done so for this year — including 207,201 from Kern County (it’s free!).

It’s essential to be prepared — including adequate food, water, medications — and perhaps sleeping bags for sleeping outdoors during the aftershocks, as we did in 1952.

It’s also important to review with your insurance broker your need for earthquake insurance that covers both your real and personal property — plus additional expenses you’ll no doubt incur living elsewhere during the reconstruction of your home.

Your broker will no doubt propose the California Earthquake Authority’s program as part of your Homeowners Policy. However, you should also ask for information about “stand-alone” earthquake policies. Such plans typically include lower deductibles at lower premiums.

With your registration for the Great California ShakeOut and following their counsel to drop, cover and hold on — plus earthquake insurance — you will know precisely what to do — unlike those of us during earlier, lower intensity earthquakes.

We were lucky.

This time, we each must know what to do to survive a major earthquake. Our lives may depend on it.

John Pryor is a retired management consultant and life-long resident of Bakersfield.