Katrina Debacle Prompts L.A. to Prepare for Disasters, Attacks

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Thursday tapped a group of high-profile people, including Disney head of security and former L.A. FBI chief Ron Iden and former Mayor Richard Riordan, to help plan the city’s response to a terrorist attack or natural disaster, including a contingency for evacuations.

The mayor and the 40 homeland security advisors, who also include Police Chief William J. Bratton, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and former Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner, will break into working groups to tackle such issues as counter-terrorism measures, evacuation planning and emergency preparedness, the mayor said.

Alarmed by the federal government’s slow response to last year’s devastating hurricanes in the Gulf Coast, Villaraigosa said Southern California government and business leaders must come up with their own solutions.


“It is possible to evacuate this city and this region, and we’ve got to figure out how to do that,” Villaraigosa said.

He acknowledged that it would be impossible to evacuate 10 million people from Los Angeles County in 24 hours, but he said one of the advisory groups would look at ways to evacuate sections one at a time so the effort was orderly.

The advisory team will be co-chaired by City Councilman Jack Weiss and Deputy Mayor Maurice Suh, and will include UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale, retired Army Gen. Peter J. Gravett, former Viacom Chairman Jonathan Dolgen, LAX federal Security Director Larry Fetters and Richard Andrews, senior director of the National Center for Crisis and Continuity Coordination.

“I wake up every day knowing the people of our city could be impacted by an earthquake, wildfire or terrorist event,” the mayor said. “Our city will be well-served and I will sleep better knowing that we are drawing on the best and brightest talent in our city.”

Several of the advisory team members cited this week’s findings of a congressional study that sharply criticized the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina as inadequate.

“Homeland security begins and ends at the local level, in this case Los Angeles,” Riordan said. “We’re fools if we think we can rely on Washington, D.C., to save us from terrorists in this city.”

Riordan recalled that when he was mayor, federal officials waited months to tell him they had arrested someone at the Canadian border with plans to attack Los Angeles International Airport.

“That’s not acceptable,” Riordan said.

Police Chief Bratton agreed that Los Angeles cannot depend on the federal government to swiftly help in an emergency.

“When it happens, the federal government is going to be nowhere to be found for the first couple of days,” Bratton warned.

Villaraigosa said private companies, including Wal-Mart, were faster in providing supplies to the Gulf Coast than was the Federal Emergency Management Agency, so his advisory team includes several business leaders to coordinate a private-sector response.