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Sat, Jun

LA Disaster Insurance:   Just $1 a Year Per Angeleno Could Transform LA's Emergency Preparedness

Hurricane Hilary almost floods Dodger Stadium

VOICES

ACCORDING TO LIZ - It would cost every Angeleno just one dollar a year to double the current annual budget of the City’s Emergency Management Department and improve the City’s chances of surviving the next disaster intact.  

One whole dollar. A year. 

For a third of the cost of a single Starbucks Cappuccino, people living between San Pedro and Winnetka, from the Palisades to El Sereno, can have a little more peace of mind. 

Protecting the City, its people and infrastructure, and its ability to function financially should be the number one priority for the leaders of Los Angeles. 

And it has a great team in its Department of Emergency Management (EMD). But for the EMD to perform its purpose effectively, the City must fully fund its operations, its staffing, its technology and outreach. 

Instead, the City has proceeded on its spending spree in cahoots with developers and its unions, blowing billions on a budget that spreads its largesse on so-called affordable housing that isn’t, and prioritizes appeasing leaders of a workforce that can’t even provide the services residents need. 

To reiterate: to double the EMD’s budget would only cost $1 per Angeleno per year. How much insurance can people buy for that amount? 

How much would the City’s residents and businesses lose if a major event impacted life in Los Angeles? 

Do the individual people of Los Angeles expect their personal insurance policies to create annual income? No. They only come into play in emergencies. 

People pay hundreds, often thousands of dollars a year to insure their car and their homes and other physical property but the City plans to spend only a tiny fraction of its $12.8 billion dollar budget, a little over $4 million or about 0.033%, on Emergency Management. To put this in perspective, this is akin to the average Angeleno household with an income of $76,244 allocating $25 for their insurance needs.

Statistically, what are the chances of your house burning down in a given year? Do you insure just half the house? Or just the first floor? Do you insure it for its replacement value or for what you paid for it? There’s a gol-darned good reason mortgage companies insist homes are fully insured so long as they hold the title. 

The Mayor clearly understood the ramifications when Hurricane Hilary, the first storm of such a stature hit the Southland in August, followed by the 10 Freeway collapse in November, and acted swiftly to return the City to operational status. 

And these are minor compared to emergencies the City may face in coming years including: 

  • Climate events such as the Great Flood that devastated California in 1862 (which has a 65% probability of recurring by 2065) collapsing infrastructure and access to power, water, health services, internet and more – disaster expert Lucy Jones predicts that 10% of our housing would be lost since vast areas that were underwater in 1862 are now chock-a-block with housing developments
  • Wildfires and drought driven by abuses by Big Ag, unrealistic construction, and water waste, and their impact on human and agricultural needs statewide
  • Biological terrorism, bombings, and wind events playing havoc with the supply chain, airport closures due to lack of de-icing equipment, and other incidents we need to protect from that are NOT on the EMD’s current hot list
  • Another virulent virus pushing the rest of the country to cordon off Los Angeles
  • The ability to effectively treat injuries and the proliferation of illnesses in the aftermath of any major emergency, and the resulting dangers of unrelieved stressors and PTSD accelerating breakdown of the social structure
  • Loss of income to the City from property taxes and other sources while costs continue to accelerate i.e. union wage hikes, federal and state-mandated compliances, and commitments made by the City to a host of divergent constituencies
  • Increased complications and budgetary demands due to lack of affordable housing 
  • Existing fiscal problems created by the collapse of the City government and/or public safety
  • Financial crises – through hacking or ineptitude or malfeasance – further aggravating the flight of businesses, jobs, and the educated classes

 To really improve the ability for the City to survive major, most likely concurrent and/or cascading emergencies, the City needs to double down on funding for new and emerging concerns including extreme weather and climate change, technological meltdown such as might be caused by an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) event, financial calamity caused by hacking or ineptitude or malfeasance, infrastructure collapse, or another leadership crisis whether from corruption or dereliction of duty. 

Insuring the City’s future should be paramount in any budget, especially one as Los Angeles gears up for two high-profile international events in the following three years. No-one would wish a major emergency or emergencies on Los Angeles at any time but certainly not when the eyes of the world are upon it. 

Most disasters are not conveniently limited by city borders: unless plans are in place, Los Angeles would be competing for support and supplies with the County and the rest of the Southland. 

Without bolstering increased resilience that would allow Los Angeles to rebuild quickly, especially in the face of a cascade of events, the City is at significant risk. 

Costs of emergencies can’t be budgeted like the purchase of library books and can’t be adjusted to fit what is allotted. They don’t fit into line items such are assigned to City Council operations. They are emergencies and de facto NOT predictable. 

Due to the existential budget crunch now facing the City due to budget-busting spending on what was not allotted for on union raises and a big drop in projected income, considerable cuts are anticipated for most departments. 

But the bigger picture issues are those city-busting events enumerated above. The ones that occur once in a generation or every few hundred years. 

The City Council cannot continue to bury its collective head under the Hollywood sign and hope these events only happen in movies. Because not only do they happen, climate change and political unrest is making sure they happen more frequently and with greater impact.

Los Angeles is a nexus for multiple threats; and the number and severity keep accelerating. 

If the City refuses to adequately fund the EMD so it can effectively address not just one but multiple simultaneous emergencies – think about the costs to the City if it doesn't. 

The Mayor’s rumored approach to the budget challenges she is facing is to refrain from filling existing vacancies which would be a disaster for a department that has yet to recover from the double whammy of Covid cuts and the previous administration’s early retirement incentives. 

That is NOT insuring the City’s future physical safety and economic survival. 

The EMD is vital for ensuring the safety of the City’s inhabitants and infrastructure, and the continuation of the City’ industries and operations including its government and financial stability, following any natural or manmade disaster. 

The most pressing need for Los Angeles is to protect the City, its people and infrastructure, and its ability to function financially. 

To do so, the EMD requires sufficient funding to allow it to hire experts qualified to take on the challenges our City faces, both creatively and proactively, and lay out a credible way forward.

(Liz Amsden is a contributor to CityWatch and an activist from Northeast Los Angeles with opinions on much of what goes on in our lives. She has written extensively on the City's budget and services as well as her many other interests and passions.  In her real life she works on budgets for film and television where fiction can rarely be as strange as the truth of living in today's world.)