Los Angeles’ Earthquake Response Plan Gets a Shakedown


Eric Garcetti’s new earthquake response plan, known as Resilience by Design, does not start out on a lighthearted note.

“From a seismological standpoint, Northridge was not a big earthquake,” the introduction states. “The 1994 magnitude 6.7 earthquake occurred on a 10 mile long fault, lasted 7 seconds, and caused strong shaking (Intensity VIII and IX) in about 20% of the City of Los Angeles (USGS and SCEC, 1994). Similar to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, future earthquakes generated by the San Andreas Fault are expected to be a magnitude 7.8 or higher, last about two minutes, and cause the same level of strong shaking over thousands of square miles (Jones et al, 200).”

Don’t sugarcoat it, guys! Tell us what we’re really dealing with!

Impending doom notwithstanding, Garcetti believes that all is not (or does not have to be) lost. Upon taking office, the mayor assembled a Mayoral Seismic Safety Task Force whose duty was to create a report outlining the ways in which L.A. can prepare for the inevitable “Big One.” (A responsibility, he said, which has been “put to the wayside for far too long.”) Today that report was released, and the recommendations put forth by the Task Force focus on three major pillars: shoring up L.A.’s pre-1980 construction, both “non-ductile reinforced concrete” and “soft first story”; fortifying our water system; and bolstering our telecommunications infrastructure.

Leading the charge is Dr. Lucy Jones, Garcetti’s Science Advisor for Seismic Safety, who, along with her cohorts, has come up with some pretty interesting suggestions. Take the communications pillar, for instance. As Garcetti said at a recent breakfast conversation with Los Angeles editor in chief Mary Melton, “We live a digital life, and you’re going to have an analog day when a big earthquake hits.” Resilience by Design is seeking to minimize the technological impact of a massive trembler by proposing a solar-powered, citywide Wi-Fi system “that will provide residents with a way to access the Internet at a time when the primary system is disrupted.”

The report is well researched and is full of excellent counsel, but implementing each and every idea would require rounds of legislation (not to mention time). Even so, Dr. Jones is optimistic (barring the Big One happening, say, tomorrow). “We acknowledge that we cannot prevent 100% of the losses in an earthquake,” she said in a statement. “What we are trying to do is prevent the catastrophic collapse of our economy by addressing the biggest vulnerabilities. If all of these recommendations are enacted, I believe that Los Angeles will not just survive the next large earthquake but we will be able to recover quickly and thrive.”