By Jason KUROSU
“In the Wake of Japan: Are We Ready?” was the question Crescenta Valley’s CERT – Community Emergency Response Team – posed to members of the community. When considering a disaster of that magnitude, most people’s responses would likely be “No” or perhaps an uninformed “Yes.”
To address the realities of a potential earthquake and what to do in the face of a disaster, be it earthquake, fire, flood, etc., CERT held an information forum at Rosemont Middle School, bringing in speakers from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the United States Geological Survey.
“We hope to scare the heck out of you over the next couple of hours,” said CV CERT coordinator Paul Dutton to open the forum.
Considering the devastation of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the next thing Dutton said was especially unsettling.
“Japan was more ready for this disaster than we would be. They have early warning systems which give them at least 30 seconds warning before the quake hits. Their buildings automatically take passengers to the top floor to minimize the risk of being hit by falling objects.
“They could ride out the earthquake well. It was the tsunami that caused most of the devastation.”
Much of the do-it-yourself attitude that CERT hopes to engender in citizens stems from the fact that they will likely be on their own in such an event.
“Many people in Japan were alone three to five days before they received help from emergency services. Some did not get help for seven to 14 days,” added Dutton.
Captain David Silversparre of the CV Sheriff’s Station echoed those sentiments, explaining the priorities of police and fire departments in disaster scenarios in which people might normally think they can dial 911 and receive prompt care.
“When a disaster like that happens, we have 93 critical facilities that we need to check in an incident.”
Generally, these include hospitals, prisons and underpasses, just to name a few. In the La Crescenta/La Cañada-Flintridge area, these would include locations such as JPL and Leslie’s Pool Supplies (the risk here being the potential leakage of deadly chlorine gas).
“You need to help yourself, your neighbors and your community,” said Silversparre.
Sgt. John Hargreaves, who Captain Silversparre referred to as a “master” in these emergency situations, recounted his experiences working in the field during such emergencies as the Oakland Fire of 1991, the L.A. riots and Hurricane Katrina. He went on to inform the audience in detail of what the police, fire department, city, county and others would do should an emergency occur, including the resources available to them and procedures regarding evacuation and notifying the public.
He impressed upon the audience that “L.A. County has more practice with major disasters than every other part of the country. We are the model that the rest of the country uses for ICS (Incident Command Systems) and Mutual Aid.”
Lastly Erik Pounders, a geologist with the United States Geological Survey and a member of CERT, spoke about the basics of earthquakes and the potential of the “Big One.” He informed the audience that a major earthquake would have a much larger effect on the Central Los Angeles area than in the foothills because of the soft sediment beneath Los Angeles.
He also made a comparison between Japan’s earthquake and the potential quake that could occur in Southern California.
“A big difference between what happened in Japan and what could happen here is that we’re not prone to tsunamis,” said Pounders.
This is due to the location of the subduction zone in Japan. This is where a tectonic plate meets another and slides under the other, which created the tsunami in Japan’s case.
“Japan has a subduction zone right off shore. Our major earthquakes are on land, not water.”
He also noted that should the “Big One” occur, it would not have a magnitude of 9.0.
“We can’t have magnitudes of that size in Southern California, not with the kind of rock we have beneath us. A 9.0 earthquake is just not realistic here. [A] 7.9 is realistic, but 8.2 would probably be the max and that’s extremely unlikely.”
But Pounders was not just quieting concerns of earthquake activity, but also informing audience members of what to do if a quake occurred. He spoke about P-waves and S-waves, or the primary and secondary waves of an earthquake which often occur about 20 to 30 seconds apart from each other.
“You may feel a small initial quake. That’s the P-wave and between that and the S-wave, which is considerably stronger, there will a lull in activity. You should use that time to get under a table or do something else to protect yourself.”
An audience member asked Pounders what could possibly be done in the short 30 second time span between the P-Wave and S-wave.
“Well, if I was having surgery, I would like the doctor to take the knife out of me. But like with the elevator systems they have in Japan, 30 seconds is enough time to get people to safety. The fire department has enough time to make sure they don’t get trapped inside so they’ll be able to help people after the S-wave hits. Thirty seconds is a long time.”
After Pounders, Dutton reiterated what CERT would do to help should a disaster or similar event occur. Earlier in the forum, maps of the La Crescenta/ La Cañada-Flintridge area were distributed to the audience, noting where residents could meet up with CERT teams for assistance in the event of an emergency. It was another reminder of the theme of the forum, that most citizens would be left to their own devices in a disaster.
“Those resources are going to be taxed to the hilt,” Dutton said. “CERT exists so we can help ourselves.”