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Monday’s Earthquake Reminder for Santa Monicans to be Prepared for Worse

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By Jason Islas
Lookout reporter

March 18, 2014 -- Southern California was jolted awake early Monday morning when an earthquake, originating in the Santa Monica Mountains seven miles from the bayside city, shook the region.

While the quake was relatively mild -- it registered 4.4 on the Richter scale -- it was for some a sobering reminder that a stronger, deadlier quake could strike any time and that residents of the seismically-active region need to be prepared.

In recent years, the City’s emergency response strategy has encouraged residents to take a more proactive role in the recovery effort that would follow a major disaster.

“Initially after a disaster, your local first responders are going to be dealing with the biggest problem first,” said Lieutenant Robert Almada, head of Santa Monica’s Office of Emergency Management.

That means, after a severe earthquakes, residents will have to help their families and neighbors until local service emergency providers can arrive on the scene. Depending on the severity of the earthquake, that could take hours or even days.

“Help will be coming, but it may have to come out of the region or out of state,” said Almada.

While Monday’s earthquake caused no damage and no injuries were reported, it was one of the strongest to hit southern California since the 1994 Northridge quake that caused an estimated $25 billion in damage and left as many as 60 people dead.

After media reports that several construction projects along major fault lines in Santa Monica went ahead without requiring seismic studies to determine if the buildings could be destroyed in an earthquake, the City of Santa Monica launched a seismic retrofit program. (“Santa Monica Launches Seismic Retrofit Program,” February 18, 2013)

A major earthquake can spread emergency responders pretty thin, Almada said. That’s why the Office of Emergency Management started the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), which trains people who live and work in Santa Monica in basic first aid and light search and rescue techniques.

To date, about 150 people have gone through the CERT training, said Almada. And, another class will start in May.

Santa Monica resident Bill Bauer -- a former spokesperson for the Red Cross -- was among those who took the first CERT class about two years ago.

“You've got to be able to be self-sufficient,” said Bauer, who also worked as a relief worker with the Red Cross for 14 years.

Bauer said that what he liked about the CERT program was how “hands-on” the training was. From the program, Bauer learned, among other things, how to safely lift heavy objects, a skill he said could mean the difference between life and death for his neighbors in the event of an emergency.

While rescue workers will be able to access Santa Monica by sea and by air -- Almada said Santa Monica’s open park space could be used to land helicopters in a dire emergency -- fallen trees and power lines could slow efforts down.

People should also make sure to have a survival kit on hand, Almada said.

Almada recommends having supplies on hand -- water, food, medicines and even pet food -- that can last for at least seven days. He also recommends coordinating with neighbors, coworkers and family.

“Folks need to have a plan,” he said, adding that “local telecommunications networks are going to be overloaded.”

While officials recommend staying put if possible, an earthquake lasting more than 20 seconds could cause a tsunami.

People living near the coast should head to high ground. While Santa Monica is at a relatively low risk of tsunami danger, the low lying areas of the city could be vulnerable, according to City officials. (“Santa Monica's Ready for Tsunamis, Says National Weather Service,” June 26, 2013)

“This is a shared responsibility. Don't expect the Red Cross to be out there with blankets and donuts in the first hour," Almada said. "We are all responsible for ourselves and those we care about.”

For more information on the City's Office of Emergency Management, visit smgov.net/oem


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