Outfitted with helmets and flak jackets, Santa Ana officials and County Board of Supervisors Chairman Roger R. Stanton on Thursday boarded Humvees and toured the South Los Angeles neighborhoods devastated by riots last week.
With the odor of burned-out buildings still filling the air and the twisted steel beams a vivid reminder of the damage caused by the looting and fires, officials saw firsthand what can happen if cities are not prepared for disasters, Santa Ana Police Chief Paul M. Walters said.
"I think everybody in this part of the country generally has kind of become complacent because we have not had riots and large-scale violence in a long, long time," Walters said. "With the Berlin Wall (falling), Desert Storm and now this, you cannot be complacent. We may just be hitting a new era. Our society is so susceptible to change and unforeseen things happening."
Escorted by National Guard troops through Watts, Compton and other riot-torn areas, the delegation visited the command post for federal troops and heard reports on problems that arose during the first days of the joint operation with Los Angeles police.
"It's a war zone," City Councilman John Acosta said after the tour, "and it worries me that the very same thing could happen here in Santa Ana."
City Councilman Robert L. Richardson said the tour through the riot-torn area highlighted "the need to plan for large-scale situations, whether they be earthquakes or fires."
As the rioting intensified in Los Angeles last week, Santa Ana police doubled their presence on city streets, officials said.
Walters said Thursday that even though the violence did not spread to Santa Ana, officials were concerned because local firefighters and National Guard units--including 10 Santa Ana police officers--had been dispatched to Los Angeles.
"You really become vulnerable when there's something of that magnitude nearby," Walters said. "You are already thin, but then you realize you are so vulnerable."
A strong communication network and the quick establishment of staging areas for police and firefighters were among some of the lessons learned on the tour, officials said.
Walters said the visit to Los Angeles was suggested by Bob Delaney, a top-ranking National Guard officer assigned to the area.
While driving through the area, a motorist accidentally sideswiped one of the Humvees in the city's caravan, slightly injuring two guardsmen, city officials said.
Joining the tour were Stanton, police Capts. Bruce Carlson and Peter Jensen; Lt. Bob Helton; city Finance Director Rod Coloma; members of the city manager's staff; and the wife and son of Councilman Daniel E. Griset.
"It was like entering Beverly Hills when we came back into Santa Ana," Acosta said.