California residents live daily with the knowledge that earthquakes can strike any time, any place and in any magnitude.
While many people say they are somewhat prepared, others shrug and say they aren’t too concerned.
Wanting to know who’s in charge, what emergency plans schools have in place and what basic supplies to have on hand — especially after the tragic results from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita — we naturally began wondering who would be in charge in the City and County of Los Angeles in case of a disaster, natural or otherwise.
CITY OF L.A. RESPONSE — In 1999, the City of Los Angeles adopted a new charter which, among other things, gave the mayor direct authority over city emergency preparedness, according to the city Web site
The City of Los Angeles Emergency Operations Board (EOB) supervises the Emergency Operations Organization during all periods of emergency preparation, response and recovery.
The chief of police is the permanent chair of the Emergency Operations Board, which consists of the general managers of the city Police, Fire, and Building and Safety Departments, Los Angeles World Airports, the Port of Los Angeles, the Information Technology Agency, the Departments of Emergency Preparedness, General Services, Personnel, Recreation and Parks, Transportation, and Water and Power, and the city administrative officer.
Also on the EOB are a public works commissioner and the chief legislative analyst.
“In case of an emergency, the EOB would convene as rapidly as possible to coordinate response and establish consensus on the best operational strategies to be utilized in controlling the disaster,” says the city Web site.
Various city agencies offer information on emergency preparedness and response.
The Los Angeles City Fire Department offers “The Earthquake Preparedness Handbook” that can be accessed on-line. The handbook offers advice on all aspects of planning for an earthquake at www.lafd.org/eqindex.htm
COUNTY OF L.A. RESPONSE — On the county level, the county Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is charged with the responsibility for organizing and directing preparedness efforts of the Emergency Management Organization.
The OEM is the day-to-day Los Angeles County Operational Area coordinator for the entire geographic area of the county.
The OEM oversees planning and coordination by maintaining an approved operational emergency response plan, providing ongoing leadership and coordinating disaster plans and exercises with the 88 cities, 137 unincorporated communities and 288 special districts in the county.
The OEM also supports and advises the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors Emergency Preparedness Commission for the county and cities of Los Angeles, according to the Web site,
The Office of Emergency Management maintains the County Emergency Operations Center (CEOC) in a state of operational readiness, in partnership with the County Sheriff’s Department Emergency Operations Bureau and serves as on-call first responders on a 24-hour basis.
The Emergency Operations Center also provides a duty officer on a 24-hour basis to address inquiries and concerns from county, local and state officials regarding potential or escalating emergency conditions.
The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services has the responsibility to protect public health during “natural and intentional emergencies, such as a terrorism attack caused by the release of biological, chemical or radiological agents.”
The department Web site has information for creating a disaster plan, preparation plans for a list of emergency supplies, a personal health and emergency information list, a list of terrorism agents and a list of vital links for other resources at www.labt.org
FEDERAL RESPONSE — The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has an educational Web site for children to learn about how to prepare for disasters and prevent disaster damages.
The site offers educational information, games and quizzes, and other useful information for children, parents and teachers at www.fema.gov/kids
LOCAL LEVEL — On the local neighborhood level, The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) is comprised of individuals trained for an all-risk, all-hazard program.
CERT is not officially a part of the Los Angeles Fire Department, but works closely with the department disaster preparedness section.
Conventional emergency services can be overwhelmed, and a CERT course was designed to help protect residents, families, neighbors and neighborhoods in case of an emergency. The CERT course can be found at
City of Los Angeles Neighborhood Councils may have their own emergency plan, and have CERT residents as council members, as does the Mar Vista Community Council.
SCHOOLS PLANS — Bob Spears, director of emergency services for The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Office of Environmental Health and Safety (OEHS), says that the school district Safe Schools Plan has been acknowledged “as one of the best prepared in the country.”
The goal of the school district’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety “is to ensure that students and staff are ever prepared for any emergency in a reasonable and responsible manner to achieve the highest level of safety,” says Spears.
The Safe Schools Plan is required by California law to be updated on an annual basis and safety hazard inspectors inspect all of the schools, providing mitigation information where necessary.
Staff and students are educated by conducting periodic emergency drills, developing and improving emergency procedures and providing immediate, professional and knowledgeable emergency service providers, Spears said.
All LAUSD schools have emergency supply containers with basic supplies. All schools have radio systems that link directly to school police, and fax machines operate on separate, dedicated lines in case the telephone systems are out, said Spears.
Robert Burke, principal of Open Charter Magnet School, a local Westchester school, says the school has an earthquake emergency committee consisting of parents and teachers.
An “emergency plan crew” oversees any emergency by initially escorting all students to a designated safe area.
Burke says the school has an “earthquake shed” with supplies, food, water and other material, and that there are emergency backpacks for the children containing emergency telephone contact numbers, along with a “comfort kit” containing family photos, an encouraging and caring letter from the parents to the child, and other items to reassure the child.
Marla Osband, director of B’nai Tikvah Congregation Pre-School, a private school, said the school has enough food, water, blankets, toothbrushes and other supplies to last from one to two months.
“Our emergency ‘comfort kits’ also contain light sticks for the children to entertain themselves with,” she said. “All of the teachers are committed to staying with the children until they’ve been picked up by their parents.
“We have a huge play yard beyond the ‘fall zone’ of the building, and we also have access to a parking lot across the street.
“We will meet each parent picking up their child, and in case we are required to leave the school grounds, two of our teachers live close to the school and the children could be taken to their homes. We also have access to cell phones for emergency contact,” said Osband.
Sandra Masted, principal of the Westchester Lutheran School said an outside trainer came to the school to train teachers and administrative staff on dealing with emergencies.
There are teacher teams responsible for guiding the children through an emergency, Masted said.
The school has enough food and water for each child for three days. Emergency files on each child are located in three separate places, and the teachers and children will remain at school until parents of each child meet at a pick-up point.
Masted said the children also have personal items from home similar to a “comfort kit”.
In case of structural damage to the building, the children would be brought to the large play area or parking lot, and the school has arrangements with the Mormon Church across the street if the staff and children must leave the property, she said.
Masted said she would remain until all children had been picked up, as would other teachers, depending on the number of children still at school.
PERSONAL RESPONSE — Organizing an emergency plan with your family and gathering emergency supplies for your home and car may take a little time, but in case of an emergency the knowledge of having made these arrangements may alleviate some of the stress associated with such situations.
As the recent fires have shown, gathering personal papers, passports, medical information and medications in case of an evacuation is critical.
In case of an earthquake, having water, food, first aid kits, flashlights or lanterns, a propane or butane cooking stove (for outdoor use only) and cash in the home can make the difference in being prepared.
An extra pair of comfortable shoes, clothing, a jacket, water, a flashlight and a first aid kit (also extra medication for several days) stored in your vehicle are important in case you’re stranded away from home.
The Red Cross says that there are six basics that should be stocked in the home in the case of an emergency: water, food, first aid supplies, clothing and bedding, tools and emergency supplies, and special items for medical conditions.