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Two Organizations Take Preparedness Seriously

Times Staff Writer

Despite the overall picture of California as inadequately prepared for a major earthquake, at least two organizations here have vigorously pursued disaster countermeasures similar to those common in Japan.

General Telephone Co. of California launched a program three years ago to secure its equipment and educate its 25,000 employees on preparations to take both at work and at home. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), the water wholesaler for more than 3 million residents, is in the second decade of its seismic safety program.

All General Telephone employees have a special card fastened to the back of their identification cards telling them what to do during and after an earthquake.

The card designates the company branch office to which they should report for assignment to emergency work or to leave messages for relay to their families. In addition, families can leave word at the designated centers for their relatives who are employees telling them of their status.

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The company has designed a special first-aid kit--one for every 25 employees--and placed it in all offices. A kit designed for four people is sold to all employees for home use at the company’s cost. General Telephone is now stocking its offices with emergency food and water and again will make supplies available to employees for personal use. File cabinets, computers and even desk-top terminals have been fastened to walls, floors and desks.

“A lot of this has not taken a lot of money or incredible planning but common sense and imagination,” said Dave Amdahl, one of two full-time emergency coordinators for the phone company.

“The key,” he said, “was when our top executives went to a conference on earthquakes three years ago and returned to ask, ‘Where do we stand on preparedness?’ . . . Too often executives say, ‘It’s not really going to happen’ or ‘It will affect someone else and we really can’t afford it.’ ”

But Amdahl said General Telephone executives concluded that a major communications company simply cannot afford to be out of commission after a disaster. “I’m not sure any big company can afford to,” he added.

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MWD started its program after the 1971 San Fernando quake caused $3-million damage at a single water treatment plant.

“We found we were pretty vulnerable in a lot of areas,” said Ted Voyles, assistant chief of operations. “We found that the radio receivers for our backup communications system were sitting loose on desks so that even a moderate, not severe, quake would cause them to crash onto floors and cost us the system even before the regular phones went out.”

MWD also discovered that large chlorine cylinders would roll off supporting devices, causing severe hazardous spills, and four-foot-high battery stands would crash to the floor, eliminating the emergency power supply for key facilities.

MWD has spent nearly $1 million improving non-structural items such as the cylinder supports and communications equipment. And the utility has spent about $10 million on more complicated projects to buttress reservoirs and transformers, although Voyles said that the basic structural system is in good shape to survive a major quake.

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MWD also has a continuing program in which designated employees automatically stop their normal work and patrol aqueducts and pipelines as soon as they feel an earthquake.

“We owe it to our customers to be in the leadership role on this thing,” Voyles said. “If we are the weak link on seismic safety, then it won’t matter what anyone else does if a disaster hits. If we aren’t the weak link, then others can look at us and get serious.”


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