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Campus Prepares for El Niño Downpour

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Dust off that umbrella. This California winter is expected to deliver a deluge.

Heavy El Niño-generated rains are anticipated to arrive within weeks and with a force stronger than the 1982-83 storms produced by the ocean-warming phenomenon in the Pacific. Although water-starved California needs the rain, the steady downpour of successive storms could create water flow issues on and around campus.

Experts, including scientists on campus, warn: this storm is too big to fail, and more predictable than an earthquake.

“This storm is something that has a very high probability. It’s not that we’re going to get a lot of rain, it’s a matter of when we get it,” said Sue Fisher, the campus emergency management coordinator.

At Cal State Fullerton, preparations began several months ago, with landscape trimming, drain debris removal, and property assessments to determine low areas vulnerable to flooding, Fisher said. Much of the preparation isn’t visible, but equipment and emergency fuels are stored, and sandbags are stuffed and stacked at the ready in anticipation of the predicted downpour, she added.

Classrooms and office sites continue to be visited and reviewed by University technology teams to ensure all equipment is stored above ground level to prevent water damage. And plans are in place to mitigate flooding and direct pedestrian and road traffic around flooded areas.

Fisher, and others on the campus flood planning and response team, will track the storms. The size and duration of each rainfall are key in determining which elements of the evolving plan are put into action.

“Rain is not uniform and we might get a lot of rain locally around campus even though a few miles away they could get very little rain,” she said. “Just expect to be disrupted this winter. We’ll need to be flexible and be prepared to go about the business we have, the best way we can.”

If necessary, announcements, road updates and warnings will be available at, as well as via text and voicemail messages. All students, faculty and staff are asked to update their emergency contact information on the CSUF Portal, said University Police Capt. John Brockie.

Personal preparations for heavy rain aren’t much different than other emergency plans, but if you’ve been putting it off, now is the time to prep, Brockie said.

“We’re in Southern California and we should always be preparing for the ‘giant’ earthquake,” he said. Despite the source — active faults or flooding — “if freeways are damaged, you could be stuck in your vehicle for a while.”  

Students should keep two days’ supply of food, clothing and personal items in their cars at all times, more for students who are part of a carpool, Brockie said. Staff and faculty members also should store personal supplies, including water and food, at desks or in their departments.

Prepare for the storm
Personal emergency kits should contain food and water for two to three days, flashlights and batteries, medical supplies, candles and matches, clothing, bedding and money.

Register at to receive countywide information.    

View emergency kits, classroom guides and emergency alerts and evacuation maps on the Campus Emergency Preparedness page. 

During the storm
Only call 911 for emergencies
Avoid driving over flooded roads so your vehicle doesn’t stall
Keep away from downed power lines
Evacuate immediately if told by authorities

CSUF scholars in engineering who examine the effects of storms and floods, in order to prevent or lessen damage from future natural disasters, explore the potential force of El Niño in this article.