DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - More than two months have passed since what was quickly and amusingly dubbed the “Shamrock shake.” The March 17 earthquake that registered a magnitude 4.4 and was centered near Westwood didn’t cause any serious damage, but it did spark a flurry of media coverage and social media posts, and reminded people that Southern California is a seismically active area.
Now that quake, and the possibility of a future larger one, is pretty much out of everyone’s mind. That’s understandable, but allowing the moment to pass without taking action would be a mistake, especially in Downtown Los Angeles.
The last major earthquake to strike the region was the devastating Northridge Earthquake in January 1994. That was a whole other era in Downtown, long before the residential revolution. Back then most people who worked here drove home after 5 p.m.
Now Downtown has more than 50,000 residents. We’d wager that far too many of them have not assembled an earthquake kit or have any idea what they would do if a disaster occurs.
That’s a worrisome thought in a community with so many tall buildings, both office and residential. Although the new high-rises are designed to roll back and forth and withstand large earthquakes, that doesn’t mean people who live or work in those structures can ignore the possibility.
Even if a building doesn’t fall or suffer serious damage, there are a number of concerns. Elevators may stop, and residents and workers need to know how they would get up and down. Do people know where multiple stairwells are in the building? Do they know where the flashlights are so they can even find the stairwells?
There are many other concerns. If the quake is big enough and causes serious damage, then grocery stores, pharmacies and services might be closed for a while. Additionally, electricity and phone lines could be down, including cell service. People will need a contingency plan.
If a big quake comes, some roads could be impassable, and cars in garages could be difficult to reach (or worse). While not everyone will be able to walk home, those who live outside Downtown should begin to get an idea of where they would go in the event of an emergency.
We are glad that Mayor Eric Garcetti has made earthquake preparedness an important issue, and that he is working closely with Caltech earthquake expert Dr. Lucy Jones. We’re also glad that the city is beginning to look at the safety of many older buildings, especially as Downtown is full of properties built before current seismic standards were instituted.
However, with all that said, much of what will happen in the wake of an earthquake depends on an individual’s response and readiness. Thus, it is up to area workers and residents to prepare an earthquake kit and to ensure that they have adequate food, water, a first-aid kit and other supplies (a good rundown of what is needed is at readyla.org, the city’s disaster preparedness page).
It has been said many times before, but it’s not a matter of if the next big earthquake comes, but when. It could be 100 years from now, or it could be today. In any case, Downtowners need to get ready.
© Los Angeles Downtown News 2014