An Open Door to Another Disaster : Entering Quake-Damaged Buildings Without Contacting Safety Experts Invites Tragedy


Few could blame photographer Joel Greenberg for wanting to retrieve the bulk of his work from his quake-damaged North Hollywood studio. Well, that’s exactly what Greenberg did at the Laurel Plaza Mall last Monday, despite the not inconsiderable risk of possible exposure to asbestos, among other things.

In fact, that particular mall is the subject of a dispute between its tenants--who at least want to follow Greenberg’s lead--and the property’s Cleveland, Ohio-based owners. The tenants have accused the owners of delaying repairs while they focus instead on plans for a brand-new mall.

We are concerned with another matter entirely, however: the impact Greenberg’s daring rush might have on the thousands of other Los Angeles merchants and residents who are equally desperate to retrieve beloved belongings from damaged structures. It would be dangerous in the extreme to enter badly damaged buildings without advice or supervision. Some may be too dangerous to enter under any circumstances. Simply put, there is a right way and a wrong way to go about this.


If you are a merchant, tenant or owner of one of the remaining 870 red-tagged structures that have been off-limits since the quake, or of one of the 4,386 structures where only limited entry is allowed, you should first call the city’s Possession Retrieval Team. That number is 818-786-7393, and it operates on weekdays, between the hours of 7 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Jerry Takaki, chief of the Bureau of Community Safety of the city’s Department of Building and Safety, says that the team will assess the dangers involved in your building, shore up walls if necessary, and perhaps even call in the Fire Department to help move the goods out of the structure. That’s the safe way to proceed. Taking chances and entering quake-damaged buildings entirely on one’s own will only to add to the tragedies that have already been tallied.