Santa Monica and ‘Big One’ Preparedness

A Los Angeles freeway in the aftermath of the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Photo: Facebook.

Preparing for an earthquake with magnitude of 8.0 or more.

By Keldine Hull

All it took was 10-20 seconds for the 1994 Northridge earthquake to rattle Southern California in a way no earthquake had done before. Dozens of people lost their lives and thousands more were injured as the state reeled from a catastrophic event that cost billions in damages. As devastating as the Northridge earthquake was, seismologists warn that the hypothetical “Big One”- an earthquake magnitude of 8.0 or more- would be even more disastrous.

Twenty-five years after the Northridge earthquake, for many Californians, the likelihood of the “Big One” is imminent. While it’s impossible to predict exactly when or where a massive earthquake will strike, cities throughout Southern California, including Santa Monica, have made vast improvements towards earthquake preparedness. In 2017, the City Council implemented the Seismic Retrofit Program designed to reinforce and strengthen older buildings. According to Nick Furnari, Emergency Services Administrator at the Office of Emergency Management (OEM), “Nearly 2,000 commercial and multi-family residential buildings in the City were identified as potentially seismically vulnerable in need of possible structural improvement and are required to comply with the Program. You can search to see if your building is on the list on the Seismic Retrofit website.”

Santa Monica, like many other cities, continues to be active in both mitigation and preparedness activities. Furnari explains, “We maintain our state of the art Emergency Operations Center 24/7 that is the central command point for large scale emergencies. We conduct Emergency Operations Center drills with city staff and first responders many times throughout the year. One such exercise is the annual Great ShakeOut where we practice how to conduct the city’s initial response after an earthquake.” Furnari continues, “We often partner with community organizations like the American Red Cross, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, and Santa Monica College during these drills to practice information sharing and coordination before an emergency event.”

In 2018, the OEM relaunched a coalition called Santa Monica Organizations Active in Disasters (SMOAID). Furnari continues, “SMOAID consists of leaders from local businesses, non-profits, and community organizations that work together to prepare the community before a disaster and pledge to serve after the disaster. SMOAID fosters a ‘whole community’ approach to disaster planning, meaning that the best way to organize and strengthen Santa Monica’s resilience and response activities is to work across disciplines and sectors.”

In addition, OEM offers disaster education and training to local community and business organizations. For those who live or work in Santa Monica, OEM manages the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). Furnari explains, “The damage caused by natural disasters or from manmade events can affect all aspects of a community, including government services. These events can severely restrict or overwhelm our response resources, communications, transportation, and utilities and leave many individuals and neighborhoods cut off from outside support.” Furnari continues, “For the initial period immediately following a disaster, individuals and neighborhoods may need to rely on their own resources and individual skills until help arrives. CERT basic training is designed to prepare you to help yourself and to help others during a catastrophe. The class is offered twice per year by the Office of Emergency Management and teaches medical operations, light search and rescue, community specific hazards, and disaster psychology to name a few.”

To better prepare yourself and those around you for an earthquake, OEM recommends a simple three- step process. The first step is to have your kit ready. Furnari explains, “When developing a preparedness kit, residents should stock up on non-perishable, easy to prepare food that they will actually eat. There’s no sense in storing food that no one in the family likes.” The OEM also recommends storing one gallon of water per person and pet for seven days. Water can be stored in your home, at work and in your car. Furnari continues, “In addition to a flashlight, it’s important to have a radio, extra batteries and a first aid kit available and ready to go. It’s also important to have cash in multiple denominations of bills. If the power goes out and the merchant doesn’t have change for a $50 bill, then it may be an expensive bottle of water for you. Be sure to include your personal essentials such as specific medications, eyeglasses, important documents, baby needs and pet supplies for everyone in your household. Additional items to include in your kit are an extra change of clothes, sturdy shoes and a sleeping bag.”

The second step is to have a plan. Furnari explains, “Know your family communications, household, school and workplace plans. Also know your neighborhood hazards. You can visit myhazards.caloes.ca.gov for more information and resources.”

The third step is to be informed. OEM recommends that if you live or work in Santa Monica, to register for alerts at smalerts.net. You’ll receive texts, emails or phone calls that let you know what to do in the event of a natural disaster or other emergencies.

Communication following a natural disaster can be challenging, but there are ways to get in contact with your loved ones and keep them updated. Furnari explains, “We recommend having an out-of-state contact in case of an emergency. Historically, right after a disaster the communication infrastructure is severely inhibited. This means that it will be highly unlikely that anyone will be able to make phone calls to friends or loved ones. However, we’ve found that texting is easier on the cell networks and often work during an emergency. If you can text an out-of-state friend or relative, they can call other family and post your status on social media on your behalf.”

On December 31, 2018, the US Geological Survey (USGS) partnered with AT&T and the Annenberg Foundation to launch ShakeAlertLA- the nation’s first publicly available earthquake early warning mobile application. Available on all iPhone and Android devices, ShakeAlertLA warns users seconds in advance of an impending earthquake. In some cases, a few seconds could be instrumental in moving to a safer position to ride out an earthquake. According to Mayor Garcetti, “We created the ShakeAlertLA app because getting a few seconds heads-up can make a big difference if you need to pull to the side of the road, get out of an elevator, or drop, cover, and hold on.”

To learn more about how you can be better prepared for any natural disaster, visit: https://www.smgov.net/departments/oem/