retrofitExperts say as many 200 municipalities not ready for earthquake
By Susan Abram @sabramLA on Twitter
Facing threats of earthquakes, wildfires and floods, almost 200 Southern California cities depend too much on big government to protect them, which will lead to slower recovery time when “the big one” hits, according to experts on disaster preparedness.
A report released Thursday as part of the newly launched So-Cal Disaster Risk Reduction Initiative, was presented at USC. It urged community members to ask tougher questions of their own civic leaders, such as — How reliable are the infrastructure and utilities that carry electricity and water? What happens if the freeways collapse? Where should residents go if their homes are destroyed?
“Our impending catastrophe is so obvious,” said retired USGS seismologist Lucy Jones, whose research includes the ShakeOut scenario, which shows the effect of a 7.8-magnitude earthquake on the San Andreas fault in Southern California. The Shake- Out scenario is being used as a blueprint for building-code improvement by the city of Los Angeles.
“We need to strengthen community relationships to get through this,” Jones said. “Earthquakes are treated too much like a response problem. We spend eight times more on response than prevention.”
Jones is serving as a special adviser to the team of academics and leaders within the public and private sectors, who launched the initiative. In the next few weeks, the group will focus on recommendations on how to make Southern California more prepared a disaster. The group will look at infrastructure, urge education about the realities of the impact of a disaster, promote the strength of communities, and address gaps in building codes.
“With this initiative, we want to help build a more resilient Southern California, one where communities across the Southland work hand-in-hand with the government,” said Raphael Bostic, director of the USC Bedrosian Center, which collaborated on the initiative. “Our ultimate goal is comprehensive engagement with local communities, businesses and authorities, so they make the right disaster risk reduction decisions themselves.”
Bostic and others pointed to Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf states in 2005, killing 1,245 people and costing an estimated $108 billion, according to the federal government. It was the costliest disaster in U.S. history. Recovery in many communities was slow because residents depended too much on big government.
Locally, residents struggled after the 6.7-magnitude Northridge earthquake struck on January 17, 1994. In Santa Clarita, residents were cut off from water supplies after the Los Angeles Aqueduct along Soledad Canyon Road broke, prompting the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to shut off water deliveries through the line into the San Fernando Valley. The quake’s force caused highways to collapse, knocked down walls and triggered gas explosions and fires. It also knocked out power to thousands of homes and businesses, as well as hospitals, where doctors struggled to save critically injured people.
History shows that after disaster strikes, many people will leave the area, which will affect businesses and the economy, added Hassan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments or SCAG. Ikhrata is co-chair of the initiative as well.
“Southern California’s vulnerability to natural disasters demands that we look forward,” Ikhrata said. “It is critical to our economy and to the 18 million residents in the region that we strengthen our connections, our infrastructure and build resilience.”
SCAG represents six counties and 191 cities. In the next few weeks, each city will be receiving more information on how community leaders, places of worship and schools can work together to come up with a disaster plan, Ikhrata said.
“I guarantee you, that not one of the 191 cities talk about when the ‘big one’ hits,” Ikhrata said. “Every single city should be developing resources to make sure we can survive a disaster. Cities need to be a bigger part of the solution.”

The Antelope Valley and the Golden State freeways show major damage after the Northridge earthquake.

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