You can take your pick among emergency situations in Los Angeles. From earthquakes, storms, floods, brush fires—even the occasional riot—the face of the City of Angels can belie a devil’s persona. And while we may host the best trained and most experienced corps of emergency responders in the world, sometimes that may not be enough.
That’s why emergency preparedness is so vital to survival. The 7.1 earthquake that hit south of Mexico City last month (and the 8.1 temblor off the Mexican coast a few weeks earlier), the series of hurricanes and resulting flooding that stuck the Caribbean, Miami, Fla., and Houston, Texas, are each a reminder that preparing for the unexpected is a wise investment in time and resources.
The “Big One” closer than we think
The state Office of Emergency Services, and its counterpart in Los Angeles County, say that a big earthquake of 8.0 or more would overwhelm police and fire crews and require citizens to take care of themselves for several weeks. The vivid images of Mexico City, Houston and San Juan, Puerto Rico, however, may not be enough to persuade Angelinos to stock extra food and water, flashlights and batteries, a radio, some cash—the bare necessities—to see them through a prolonged period of turmoil.
Los Angeles is overdue for the “Big One” that would likely start along the San Andreas Fault which stretches from the Salton Sea to Monterey County and beyond. Temblors like the 1994 Northridge quake and the 1989 Loma Prieta quake each killed dozens of people. While those measured 6.7 and 6.9 respectively on the Richter scale, experts now predict a 19-percent chance that a major quake of 7.0 or more will hit the south end of the San Andreas sometime in the next 20 years. There’s a seven-percent chance of an 8.0-or-larger earthquake occurring over that time span or sooner.
If an 8.0 earthquake struck metropolitan Los Angeles, experts at Cal Tech say it would pack nearly 90 times more energy than the Northridge quake. Dr. Lucy Jones, the familiar seismologist whom the city traditionally calls upon to explain the shaking, said while she and her colleagues can only study earthquake patterns, it is the citizens who must be proactive about their safety.
Storms and flooding always major concern
“The Mexico quake reminds us that science can tell us what the impact can be, but society has to take action to prevent catastrophic damage,” Jones said.
While the West Coast usually does not feel the brunt of hurricanes—only high tides left over from events near Hawaii or traveling north from the Baja Peninsula—it is nonetheless crucial that residents try to work in tandem in case of a severe storm and resulting flooding. The El Nino events of years past can give a clue as to the danger of powerful storm systems involving the Los Angeles Basin.
“The first people to assist you are going to be your family and your neighbors,” said Aram Sahakian, general manager of the Los Angeles Emergency Management Department (EMD). “It is very important that you meet with your neighbors—people in the 10 to 20 homes closest to you-and begin to make plans in case of an emergency.”
Sahakian said among the first priorities is to have an emergency kit with all of the necessary items. Try to identify people nearby who might need special assistance (i.e. children and the elderly). Plan how to communicate with family and neighbors, if phone lines go down. Have a sufficient supply of food and water (enough for a week and stored in a secure place).
“In these major events,” Sahakian explained, “hundreds of thousands of people are going to be displaced. The supply chain is going to be impacted, whether it is transportation, or medical supplies, or food. You need to be prepared for at least five to seven days.”
Los Angeles, of course, sits on the far eastern end of the “Ring Of Fire.” A continuous number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions take place in this Pacific Ocean region spanning about 40,000 kilometers. If a 9.1 earthquake were to strike off the Pacific Coast, a tsunami could take place where hundreds of thousands of people from Alaska to Mexico could conceivably be displaced—or perhaps die—in only a few days.
Is LA ready for a tsunami?
Not long after a tsunami in 2011 killed thousands in Japan, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) conducted a simulation of what such an event could do to the West Coast. They identified several local communities that are particularly vulnerable to flooding because of their low elevation and lack of protection from waves. The simulation demonstrated that the waves would be much larger in Northern California—between 10 and 23 feet—but the damage would be greater in Southern California because the region has more coastal development and fewer coastal cliffs, unlike, for instance, Big Sur.
Tsunami waves measuring anywhere from three to 10 feet would reportedly submerge blocks of Long Beach south of Ocean Boulevard. Those same waves would inundate Newport Beach and cause near irreparable damage to Huntington Beach, the latter being among the lowest lying municipalities in the Southland. Further, according to the USGS, such massive flooding would cause sewage to foul beaches, damage harbors and marinas and make more than 10,000 people homeless. Scientists believe that a tsunami could result in a “toxic stew” of ship debris and fuel and pesticide—laden runoff that could take years to clean up. A tsunami like the Japan emergency could conceivably travel several miles inland, thereby cutting off roadways needed for emergency personnel and residents trying to flee to higher ground.
While tsunamis are relatively rare in this portion of the Pacific Ocean, a 9.1 earthquake in Alaska in 1964 did result in such a calamity. The waves were so powerful that 10 people died in Crescent City, Ca. about 1,900 miles south of the epicenter.
“You’re life depends on how you respond,” Jones commented. “People die in tsunamis…they’re very, very deadly.” Jones has been a vocal advocate for an earthquake/tsunami warning system along the California coast. If it is in place, she said, “we could have a few hours” to notify the public.
Los Angeles is familiar with heavy rain storms (i.e. El Nino and La Nina) with some areas prone to flooding and extensive damage. High winds pummeled the Southland in 2012 resulting in downed power lines and fallen trees across the region. In 2014, a tornado touched down in South Los Angeles during a heavy rain storm. It skipped across a 10-block span—particularly along Vermont Avenue and Figueroa Street—ripping off a roof, bending street signs, and damaging at least five homes. In 2003, a ferocious storm hit Southern California, resulting in a “microburst” taking place in Watts and in neighboring South Gate and Lynwood. Tons of hail piled up so high that kids enjoyed a rare snowball fight.
Neighborhood emergency plans
Last year, the EMD identified a list of neighborhoods with active emergency plans in place, and others in the process of developing an emergency plan. Locally, Kilgore Manor at 28th Street and Central Avenue, nearby Griffith Gardens as well as Price Chapel AME Church have certified emergency plans in place. Athens on the Hill Community Association, View Heights Block Club, and Harbor Gateway North are finalizing their strategy to keep residents safe.
On Saturday, West Angeles Cathedral Church of God in Christ, 3045 Crenshaw Blvd., will host a pair of disaster preparedness presentations at 10 a.m. and again at 4 p.m. They’ll talk about what you can do to help keep your family and neighbors safe during a disaster, specifically during an earthquake when city and emergency rescue services may not be available for 10 to 14 days.
What can you do to keep yourself, family and neighbors safe during any of these unexpected emergencies? There’s plenty, according to the EMD, and it doesn’t necessarily cost a lot of money. These disaster plans entail assembling emergency supply kits for homes, places of employment and in vehicles. Experts suggest you practice a family disaster plan that includes emergency procedures for when you are home or when family members are away from or home or at school.
The family emergency plan should reflect personal sustainability for a minimum of 72 hours, taking into account the needs of small children, seniors, family members with disabilities, and pets. As well, get to know your neighbor sand talk about the importance of preparedness. Neighborhood councils are an excellent way for residents, business owners and property owners to advocate for change in their community. These councils are city-certified and are composed of people who live, work, own property or have some connection to a particular neighborhood.
Have an emergency kit handy
Here what the EMD suggests you include in an emergency kit:
–Battery operated flashlight (with two to three packages of appropriate fresh batteries)
–Cell phone charger
–Canned foods and juices (with can opener)
–Water for at least three days (one gallon per person per day)
–First aid kit
–Battery operated radio (with two to three packages of appropriate fresh batteries)
For more information about how to assemble an emergency kit or what to do in the event of a disaster, visit the EMD website at emergency.lacity.org.