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Valley Perspective : Preparing for the Big One : Community emergency response teams have a vital role to play in the next big temblor

The volunteer “community emergency response teams” who were engaged in training this past week for the next big earthquake have a vital role to play. Here’s why:

The “moderate” 1994 Northridge earthquake ultimately killed more than 70 people, stretched our emergency medical system to its limits, wrecked the city’s sewer system, damaged or destroyed 12,000 buildings, shut down 40 miles of roads and freeways, left 40,000 people without food or shelter, and directly victimized a population larger than that of the city of Denver.

It’s that word “moderate” that’s so troubling.

It should not be forgotten that teams from Caltech, USC, the U.S. Geological Survey and others later said that the Los Angeles Basin was long overdue for temblors that could unleash 15 times the energy of Northridge.

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And, as if that wasn’t enough to prepare for, one must also factor in the fact that our young alluvial soil (soft sediment, loose and sandy) slows down earthquake shock waves. That increases their amplitude or energy. In basins like the San Fernando Valley, surrounding mountains also trap those waves, causing them to bounce around for longer periods, greatly enhancing quake damage.

So, as we have said before on this page, the possibility exists that communities may be cut off from one another for hours. Emergency response teams might be delayed or swamped, and neighborhoods just might be on their own for some considerable length of time.

That puts a premium on having trained people in every neighborhood who can work at freeing victims from rubble, stabilize injuries, shut off gas mains, and the like. That’s exactly what the Los Angeles Fire Department’s volunteer response teams are being trained to do. If your neighborhood hasn’t gotten involved yet, it certainly ought to.


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