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Alert: Here’s How to Save Lives in Earthquake Country


THE VIEW FROM HERE-We Angelenos love where we live:  the mountains with hiking and skiing; the deserts with skydiving; the ocean with surfing; lakes with jet skiing; theatre with venues too numerous to name; sports with basketball, hockey, and baseball—we have it all (I am still waiting for football to come back).  


Yet we also live in earthquake country.  

Those of us who have resided in the area for many years have experienced the 1971 Sylmar quake (I was way up at UCSB at the time and still felt it), the Whittier Narrows shake in 1987, and, most recently, the 1994 Northridge upheaval. 

Personally, I would rather live in a place where an occasional attack by Nature lasts only a few seconds  (noting that if we survive the shake and its aftermath, we get to move on with our lives).  Naysayers wonder why we continue to live here.  The answer, indisputably, is we would rather reside with the possibility of a temblor every 20 years or so than face annual tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods.  Besides, we have LA Live! 

Earthquakes, nevertheless, are not to be taken lightly, minimized, or ignored in their impact on our lives. Recently, Councilmembers Tom LaBonge (LACD 4) and Mitch Englander (LACD 12) introduced motions at City Council to address this very serious issue:  We need to reinforce older buildings which cannot stand up to a major earthquake (zeroing in on those built prior to 1976).  At least 50 such buildings are already suspected of being likely to collapse during the next major earthquake, injuring and/or killing thousands. 

How will retrofits be paid for?  There is the possibility of bonds or loans.  Many landlords are very reticent about putting up their own money to correct the architectural failings of their buildings.  Measures introduced in the past have been quashed at the thought of a financial outlay.  We can no longer ignore the fact that something needs to be done! 

I don’t think we want to see what we all witnessed on TV in New York—when buildings collapsed in front of our very eyes; when people jumped to their deaths from offices too high for likely rescue (rather than burn to death from the ferocious fires). 

Despite my being a Bruin fan, I have to give kudos to USC for its foresight in retrofitting some of its own buildings.  Its utilization of X-beams not only reinforces older concrete or wood-frame buildings but is attractive as well. 

California has been in the forefront for requiring higher building standards for decades.   After the 1994 earthquake, for instance, the rebuilding of garden walls and fireplaces and the buildings themselves had to meet the newly instituted and more demanding construction standards—rules, still in place, which mandate numerous inspections to ensure that construction adheres to the stricter requirements. 

I have been attempting over the last several months to introduce a somewhat bold idea about which I am extremely enthusiastic:  Israel’s Escape Rescue Systems.  I believe this is an idea whose time has come.  I have been speaking with electeds at the state and local levels, representatives who seem to be interested in this concept.  When I saw a video demonstrating this technique, I was in awe!  It is not merely an experiment, it is in place and in use—with the potential of saving the lives of those who might otherwise be victims of fire, earthquake, or attack.


The structure is placed on the top of buildings.  When a fire or other menace is detected, the system is alerted and put into action.  The firefighters are on their way in only moments.  The structure is lowered to the ground and in accordion fashion, each unit with at least one firefighter in it is raised floor-by-floor.  People on each floor wait calmly at the emergency exit which opens up as the unit arrives.  A ladder (which also accommodates wheelchairs) is lowered to the floor and one-by-one each individual climbs (or wheels) to the waiting unit.  When it is full, the entire accordion structure is lowered and as each unit reaches the ground, the people exit.  Crews are on hand to handle any emergency.  Once the rescue is completed, the entire structure can resume its position on the roof (unless damage to the edifice prevents it). 

Such a system is cost-effective.  The return on investment is rapid.  The cost to landlords and to the City would be minimal compared to the costs to life and property. 

Let us face the fact that we don’t want a repeat of the Northridge Meadows disaster.  Only a few days after the ’94 quake, my son and I were on our way to our insurance company and drove past that apartment complex.  Many CSUN students had been living there.  I said to my son that I didn’t see the damage that had been reported on TV.  What we were looking at, I presumed, was a two-story building that looked fairly intact.  My son pointed out to me that it had been a three-story building!  I was horrified and emotionally drained by the realization of what I was in fact viewing!  I saw the cars on the other side, crushed to half their height.  I later learned of the renters (including some students who had just moved in) who had been crushed to death.  

I was incensed when I learned that for many of the destroyed or greatly damaged structures in the Valley and elsewhere, some contractors had taken short-cuts or had managed to get around building codes that had existed pre-earthquake.  They had used substandard building materials and had somehow gotten around inspectors.  The human cost of this negligence and indifference?  Inestimable! 

Yes, we don’t need to witness a repeat of that kind of devastation.  That we need to act now is  all too clear.  That we are not taking the issue seriously enough is even more evident.  Perhaps my suggestions are not the answers.  Perhaps they are part of the answer.  Perhaps it is time for our elected representatives to take action.  Perhaps it is time before we have to say, “If only we had acted!”


(Rosemary Jenkins is a Democratic activist and chair of the Northeast Valley Green Coalition. She also writes for CityWatch.)







Vol 11 Issue 91

Pub: Nov 12, 2013





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