Earthquake experts urge Californians to prepare for future disasters


LOS ANGELES — In the wake of a series of small Southern California seismic events that prompted a state agency to issue a major earthquake alert, a panel of disaster management leaders urged residents to insure their property and take other steps to get prepared.

The appeal was made by representatives of the American Red Cross, the Los Angeles Emergency Management Department, the California Institute of Technology and the California Earthquake Authority — the state-sanctioned not-for-profit insurer — at a Nov. 17 earthquake preparedness forum organized by New America Media.

Southern Californians should prepare for an earthquake comparable to the magnitude 6.7 Northridge temblor in 1994, the last major seismic disaster in the region, according to panelists.

“There is a 99 percent chance of a magnitude 6.7 earthquake or greater in the next 30 years,” said Chris Nance, CEA’s chief communications officer. “After the recent swarm [of earthquakes] our phones have been ringing off the hook.”

That spate of small quakes in late September near the Salton Sea about 170 miles southeast of Los Angeles, prompted the California governor’s Office of Emergency Service to issue an advisory that warned of an increased risk of a big San Andreas fault-line earthquake. That regional alert ended Oct. 4.

The recent increase in earthquake insurance sign-ups is part of a yearlong surge, said Nance. CEA now has more than 908,000 active policies, an increase of almost 30,000 in the first eight months of this year — nearly twice the amount of new CEA policies purchased in all of 2015.

Nance said about 16 percent of properties in the greater Los Angeles area are now insured for quake damage, making it the region with the most earthquake coverage in the state. Nance urged those without coverage to take advantage of recent CEA rate reductions and the creation of more coverage options and deductibles. He emphasized that homeowners’ insurance policies do not cover earthquake damage.

A leading seismologist at the California Institute of Technology called on residents to assess risks to their home and property, whether they are a renter or homeowner.

“We live in earthquake country and we’re going to have some big ones in the future,” said Thomas Heaton, director of CalTech’s Earthquake Engineering Research Library. “Are you going to make it through this?”

Heaton said some structures are more vulnerable than others. Wood buildings are “fairly sound,” he says. Concrete buildings — particularly one-story structures — are usually “safe,” says Heaton. On the other hand, brick buildings can be “brittle,” he said.

Community interaction with emergency services organizations is another key to preparedness, said Norma Vega, chief strategy and external affairs officer for the American Red Cross of the Los Angeles region.

She also encouraged undocumented residents to take part in disaster preparedness programs and called on all communities to alert emergency assistance agencies to problems after a major earthquake.

“People are afraid to seek help because of their immigration status,” Vega said. “However, the Red Cross is not a government agency … Community-based volunteers are the key to ensuring communities are (disaster) trained and ready.”

Residents should prepare for the next big quake by creating a stock of food and other essentials that will last at least 30 days, said Rob Freeman, acting assistant general manager for the City of Los Angeles’ Emergency Management Department. That department has provided an online checklist of items that should be included in an emergency supply kit.

“Residents need to have a plan for communicating with family members after disasters,” Freeman said. “We also need to come together as neighbors to plan ahead.”

Freeman says residents should adopt the city’s five-step plan for preparing for disasters. It encourages residents to prepare by:

• Defining a geographic area that can be organized;

• Recruiting local leaders to help manage the post-disaster response;

• Identifying helpful resources and potential hazards in that community;

• Building a disaster team by obtaining input and commitments from community groups and institutions in the vicinity;

• Creating a written emergency preparedness and response plan.

The New America Media forum was held two days after the release of a risk report that warns of the possibility of an earthquake that could simultaneously strike both Northern and Southern California.

The report — produced by CoreLogic, an Irvine, Calif.-based real estate research and analysis company – said a single large earthquake could rupture the full length of the San Andreas fault spanning Northern and Southern California. The analysis is based on risk science data from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast.

Such a quake could result in between 2 million and 3.5 million single-family homes damaged and total reconstruction costs of more than $289 billion, according to the analysis, disseminated on the websites of CEA and other insurance organizations.

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