LA Not Ready For The ‘Big One’

JUNE19NCwebNeighborhood Councils Step Up To Help Their Communities Get Ready

Reprinted with permission from

While our giant metropolis was anticipating a long weekend of barbecues and Indy racing, 19 neighborhood council activists showed up to work on a plan to educate our residents about saving their own lives (and health) during a natural disaster. In deliberations over the past couple of years, this group has become aware of how unprepared -  and even downright complacent - LA is when it comes to the need for a little advance planning.

Here's one example. The advice we get from our political leadership is that when an earthquake starts, you should "duck, cover, and hold." What exactly does this mean? It sounds simple, but take a look around you right now and answer this question: Is there a nearby table or other solid object that (1) you could get under while the floor is jumping up and down and tossing you around, and (2) will it be strong enough to save you from a falling ceiling or heavy objects thrown off of nearby shelves? Or will its legs give way under a cascade of books, trophies, and a bowling ball? How many of us have bothered to think about the question?

Again: Are there any objects on shelves or mantles that could seriously hurt you if you were unable to get out of their way? Are heavy shelves properly fastened to the wall?

Just to complicate things, an alternate version of the mantra is "drop, cover, and hold on." There are even instructions for people who happen to be in an arena or sports stadium when the shaking starts (remember the Loma Prieta quake?). In that case, you are told to drop down between the seats and protect your neck and head with your hands.

The issue here is that we live in a city of four million people within a populated area of three or four times that number, and very few of us have even bothered to take a look around the bedroom or kitchen and think about the hazards we have created for ourselves within our own homes and offices. And what about a big box store with high shelves full of heavy merchandise -- what should you do if you are in the aisle at the time a quake happens? There is a suggested response, which is to climb under one of the shelves. Has this been tested by structural engineers?

The neighborhood council system and its regional alliances are at the beginning of a process that will, if successful, help people protect their safety through some simple, inexpensive steps. We have 99 councils at present, meaning that on the average, each council covers a population of about 40,000 people. Some are larger, some smaller, but for the most part they are small enough to allow for locals to get together and educate each other in a neighbor-to-neighbor way.

Our current task is to create a brief introductory manual to be presented to every neighborhood council in the hopes that all of the 99 will develop a plan for outreach to their own people regarding disaster preparedness. We are basing our project in part on a few councils which have already made great strides along the path.

We have now agreed that the roll-out date for that manual will be at the next citywide neighborhood council congress in September. We know what needs to go into the manual. It's just a matter of putting it all together in logical order and removing the fluff. Look forward to a breakout session on emergency preparedness which will be used to communicate a lot of useful information.

What's a Go Bag?

The disaster preparedness people have adopted an idea that was probably first mentioned in spy stories from the '40s. If you have a lifestyle where discovery is always a risk, you must be ready to depart on a moment's notice. Hence the Go Bag. It's got the minimal essentials that you absolutely need if you have to leave home right now and don't know when or if you are coming back. The Go Bag shows up (even if by a different name) in stories about British agents parachuted into occupied France, but for us, the requirements, although similar, are not identical.

In the modern day, if your dwelling were suddenly to become uninhabitable because an earthquake shattered its structure, you would have to leave, and the authorities won't give you a lot of time to get out. The same problem can happen in the event of a rapidly advancing brush fire. I remember that after the Northridge quake, a family friend was allowed 15 minutes total to enter his medical offices and take whatever he could carry. The building was demolished soon thereafter.

Suppose the place next to yours is on fire? You must go, and you won't have time to think at leisure about what to take. People who have been making preparedness a serious part of their lives have been creating Go Bags and keeping one in the closet and one in each car.

What goes into each bag?

That's a list we will include in our process of educating the public come September. Just as a hint, consider making photocopies of important documents such as your passport and your list of prescription medications. Along with the photocopies, include at least a three-day supply of those same medications (a week is better). At the minimum, think how to organize your meds so that you can grab them in a hurry should you have to leave.

There's lots more. By the way, you can also get advice from the Red Cross, which puts out a set of pamphlets and information sheets that list supplies and preparations. What's important is that we motivate the people to start taking the issue seriously.




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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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