At a press conference at the Topanga Disaster Preparedness Fair on September 18, County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky introduced the 145-page Topanga Disaster Survival Guide, which was produced in collaboration with the Topanga Coalition for Emergency Preparedness (T-CEP), Caltrans, California Highway Patrol, Los Angeles County Fire Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the county’s Department of Public Works, Topanga Elementary School, National Park Service and other community groups.
The guide, he said, “shows how to inoculate yourself against trouble and insure survivability.”
A total of 6,000 copies of the guide have been mailed to Topanga residents.
Referring to the loss of life and catastrophic damage caused by hurricane Katrina, Yaroslavsky said all county residents should “be prepared to make it on your own for 72 hours when a disaster strikes,” and urged Topangans to “take 10 minutes every day to read the Survival Guide, look around your house for the worst case scenarios and know your exit strategies.”
Two years ago, Yaroslavsky lanched a pilot program in Topanga as part of the county’s plan to modernize disaster preparedness in the county’s unincorporated communities which range from rural mountain towns like Topanga to the large urban communities like East Los Angeles. The pilot program will be the basis for emergency management plans in other unincorporated areas of the county.
Topanga was selected for the pilot program because nine of the last ten federally declared disasters in California involved Topanga and the Santa Monica mountains. Limited accessibility and narrow winding roads called for an emergency management plan to prepare for disaster.
As significantly, the Topanga Coalition For Emergency Preparedness (T-CEP), an all volunteer organization, had a demonstrated record in operating an Emergency Operations Center during disasters.
Regular workshops were held with the Steering Committee’s Lead Coordinator Susan Nissman, of Supervisor Yaroslavsky’s office, Co-chair Pat MacNeil, T-CEP President, and Co-chair Lee Sapaden of the LA.County Office of Emergency Management who provided direction to the Planning and Response Ad Hoc Work Group and the Education and Communication Ad Hoc Work Group.
Under the Community Emergency Management Plan, county departments have identified models for emergency management that could improve the quality and level of service to over one million residents living in the county’s unincorporated areas. Creating the Topanga Disaster Survival Guide was “a true collaboration between the government and the community. It was not about the community’s resistance to government,” Nissman said.
The Survival Guide includes comprehensive and practical advice for Topanga residents on how to survive earthquakes and wildfires as well as detailed evacuation instructions. The guide’s Tactical Zone Map divides the community into nine zones that locate Community Safety Areas – designated locations within the canyon deemed safer than residents’ homes and Neighborhood Survival Areas – smaller, usually open areas to be used if residents are unable to make it to Safety Areas.
Members of the Emergency Planning Project drove the roads of the community for two weeks to identify all critical locations.
Both first responders and Topanga residents will use the Tactical Zone Map during an emergency or disaster.
The guide stresses preparedness and includes sections on Topanga Resources, Family Preparedness, Animal Preparedness, Quake Preparedness, Flood, Slide & Storm Preparedness, Other Disasters, Home, School and Business Preparedness, Wildfire Preparedness, Fire, and Neighborhood Networks.
The Guide tells Topangans what they can expect in a major disaster so that they and all levels of government can react rapidly and effectively. In addition, it will make for more and better coordination between the LA County Sheriff’s Department, Fire Department, CHP and all county agencies. Local organizations, such as T-CEP’s Disaster Radio Team, will coordinate communications and identify needs particular to Topanga.
Ten days after the Preparedness Fair, on September 28, a wind-driven wildfire broke out in Chatsworth, east of Topanga Canyon Boulevard. The wildfire burned out of control south of the Ronald Reagan 118 freeway and turned towards Simi Valley, Calabasas, Old Agoura, and Thousand Oaks. By nightfall on the second day of the fire, more than 17,000 acres had burned, but only two houses and a few outbuildings had been lost.
More than 3,000 firefighters flew in an arsenal of helicopters including Erickson sky cranes, Firehawks, and Bell 412’s from LA City , LA County and Ventura County fire departments and saved thousands of homes.
By September 30, fire officials reported that the Topanga fire ( the name given to the wildfire even though it did not occur in Topanga!) had burned 20,000 acres and was 20 percent contained. Two SuperScooper CL-415 air water tankers from the Province of Quebec, under lease to the LA County Fire Department, arrived at Van Nuys airport and will be available for wildfire suppression through December.Santa Ana winds normally return to Southern California during October and November at the height of the wildfire season. In 2003, the worst wildfires in California history occurred from October 25 to November 3. There are an average of 14 Red Flag Alert days every year in Los Angeles county, when Santa Ana winds and high temperatures threaten the wildland urban interface communities of the area.