Volunteers from a South Los Angeles emergency readiness organization are stepping up their efforts after a recent report suggested the chances for an earthquake of 8.0 magnitude or larger is more likely to hit Southern California within the next 30 years.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) issued the report March 10, saying the likelihood of a large quake has increased from about 4.7 percent to about 7 percent, largely due to the fact that multiple earthquake faults could slip at once. The likelihood of a Northridge–sized earthquake has decreased by 30 percent, according to the USGS.
“A quake of that magnitude in Southern California could have devastating effects on local communities,” said Debra A. Varnado, chair of the Disaster Preparedness Group. “We are concerned about how residents and officials should change their plans and policies, if at all, in the face of this dire warning.”
According to the Southern California Earthquake Center Director and study co-author Tom Jordan, a magnitude 8.0 earthquake would release almost 90 times more energy than the 1994 Northridge temblor.
“That 6.7 magnitude quake killed more than 60 people, injured thousands, and caused widespread damage, said group member Kelvin Sauls, a senior pastor at Holman United Methodist Church. “A larger event could be far worse, destroying homes, businesses, and infrastructure and leading to greater loss of life.
“Northridge was a moderate quake. An 8.0 event is in another category altogether … and geographically, the American Red Cross has already identified the 10 most vulnerable areas in the county in a disaster. They include Westlake, Florence, South-Central, Watts, South Park, Cudahy, Central Alameda, Boyle Heights, Pico-Union and Koreatown,” he added.
Varnado emphasized the need to know if the authorities, responsible agencies and officials need to escalate their efforts to help prepare communities and if there are regulatory, functional, structural and geographic areas that should take priority.
“How will our transportation, communications, medical and other life support systems weather such an event?” she asked. “If our neighborhoods are leveled, where will we shelter until we can get back on our feet?”
“We should get ready … for a quake like the one that hit Southern California in the late 1850s. That 7.9 quake did not result in much widespread destruction or loss of life as Los Angeles was not as developed and heavily populated at the time, but the destructive potential of an 8.0 is much greater now, given the present-day L.A landscape,” Varnado said.
“We are fortunate that seismic activity in California has been relatively low over the past century. But we know that tectonic forces are continually tightening the springs of the San Andreas fault system, making big quakes inevitable,” Jordan said.
According to the Red Cross’s PrepareLA project, “individuals and communities are typically under-prepared for the inevitable catastrophes that will affect the entire region.”
Los Angeles firefighter Larry Bogatz, who coordinates the Fire Department’s certified emergency response training program, said the risk or threat of an earthquake is not as apparent as hurricanes or tornadoes, but local residents and businesses need to put together survival kits and prepare for disasters by taking the department’s training and organizing neighborhood teams to help increase their community’s chances of survival.
“New Orleans had an extremely difficult time coping with [Hurricane Katrina] and the demand for rescue and shelter,” he said. “Years later, thousands of people were still feeling the effects.”
Varnado said the disaster preparedness group is helping residents get prepared with emergency response training, disaster awareness courses and other training, and through community outreach and education.
“We aren’t depending, as a first resort, on first responders,” she said. “We look forward to their assistance and recovery, but we will do for ourselves until they can get to us to provide professional assistance — which could take several days.
“And we want to know how the authorities are responding to the new forecast which could pose greater jeopardy to us in the event of a massive quake,” she added.
Group Vice Chair Chin Thammasaengsri said the group is doing practical things like staging radio communication drills to teach residents how to effectively use hand-held radios — walkie-talkies — that can be valuable instaying in touch during a disaster.
“The devices we typically use on a day-to-day basis to communicate are likely to go down or be overloaded,” Thammasaengsri Said. “And we expect to have power outages.”
The Disaster Preparedness Group is an independent community-based, all-volunteer organization dedicated to assisting the responders and preparing communities for major emergencies. Members include Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, the Ward Economic Development Corporation, Rosa Parks Villas and Ward Villas; Los Angeles Fire Department Battalion 18 and Los Angeles Police Department Southwest Area; the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness, Trinity Baptist Church, Holman United Methodist Church, the Iglesia Cristiana Antioquia; the Office of the President of the Los Angeles City Council, the United Neighborhoods Neighborhood Council, Mid City Neighborhood Council, and several South L.A. and Mid-City communities.
For more information, email Varnado at LACERT firstname.lastname@example.org or see LA-CERT.com.