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In an emergency, early preparation can mean difference between life, death

Ways to remain safe, secure

Merdies Hayes | 10/5/2017, 3:37 p.m.
ou can take your pick among emergency situations in Los Angeles County. From earthquakes, storms, floods, brush fires—even the occasional ...

“The first people to assist you are going to be your family and your neighbors,” said Aram Sahakian, general manager of the Los Angeles Emergency Management Department (EMD). “It is very important that you meet with your neighbors—people in the 10 to 20 homes closest to you—and begin to make plans in case of an emergency.”

Sahakian said among the first priorities is to have an emergency kit with all of the necessary items. Try to identify people nearby who might need special assistance (i.e. children and the elderly). Plan how to communicate with family and neighbors, if phone lines go down. Have a sufficient supply of food and water (enough for a week and stored in a secure place).

“In these major events,” Sahakian explained, “hundreds of thousands of people are going to be displaced. The supply chain is going to be impacted, whether it is transportation, or medical supplies, or food. You need to be prepared for at least five to seven days.”

Los Angeles, of course, is perched on the far western end of the “Ring Of Fire.” A continuous number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions take place in this Pacific Ocean region spanning about 40,000 kilometers. If a 9.1 earthquake were to strike off the Pacific Coast, a tsunami could take place where hundreds of thousands of people from Alaska to Mexico could conceivably be displaced—or perhaps die—in only a few days.

Is LA ready for a tsunami?

Not long after a tsunami in 2011 killed thousands in Japan, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) conducted a simulation of what such an event could do to the West Coast. They identified several local communities that are particularly vulnerable to flooding because of their low elevation and lack of protection from waves. The simulation demonstrated that the waves would be much larger in Northern California—between 10 and 23 feet—but the damage would be greater in Southern California because the region has more coastal development and fewer coastal cliffs, unlike, for instance, Big Sur.

Tsunami waves measuring anywhere from three to 10 feet would reportedly submerge blocks of Long Beach south of Ocean Boulevard. Those same waves would inundate Newport Beach and cause near irreparable damage to Huntington Beach, the latter being among the lowest lying municipalities in the Southland.

Further, according to the USGS, such massive flooding would cause sewage to foul beaches, damage harbors and marinas and make more than 10,000 people homeless. Scientists believe that a tsunami could result in a “toxic stew” of ship debris and fuel and pesticide—laden runoff that could take years to clean up. A tsunami like the Japan emergency could conceivably travel several miles inland, thereby cutting off roadways needed for emergency personnel and residents trying to flee to higher ground.

While tsunamis are relatively rare in this portion of the Pacific Ocean, a 9.1 earthquake in Alaska in 1964 did result in such a calamity. The waves were so powerful that 10 people died in Crescent City, Ca., about 1,900 miles south of the epicenter.