I'm Just Sayin': Are we really ready for 'The Big One?'

The tragic earthquake and tsunami in Japan last week and the subsequent and ongoing nuclear crisis have made many of us ask how well the U.S., and even more importantly, Southern California, is prepared to handle these kinds of cataclysmic events. What would happen if just one of these horrendous disasters happened in our area?

For years we’ve been told to prepare for “The Big One.” An article in the Los Angeles Times last October reported that some scientists are now saying that a magnitude 8.1 earthquake could take place on the southern portion of the San Andreas fault and run 340 miles from Monterey County to the Salton Sea.

Most of us can remember the Northridge earthquake in 1994, which was a magnitude 6.7. Because earthquake strength is measured exponentially, an 8.1-magnitude earthquake would be approximately 25 times stronger than that destructive quake.

Even though the 9.0-magnitude earthquake in Japan was almost 200 times stronger than the Northridge quake, reports state that damage in Tokyo was minimal. That might give some here in Southern California a false sense of security.

Tokyo was fortunate to be approximately 230 miles from the epicenter and benefited from buildings that are built to the highest earthquake standards in the world. The San Andreas fault lies just on the other side of the San Gabriel Mountains, only about 40 short miles from us here in the Crescenta Valley.

Could our homes, schools and businesses withstand an earthquake of this size? What about our roads? We just have to look back to the Northridge and Loma Prieta quakes to see the collapsed bridges and freeways. Even with the retrofitting that has taken place, would they hold up?

I heard on the radio yesterday that, ironically, next week is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s first Tsunami Awareness Week. Here in Glendale and La Crescenta, we don’t have to personally worry about tsunamis, but we would likely still be affected emotionally and economically if the beach communities were to be hit by a massive wave.

Do we have to worry about a nuclear disaster like the one we’re seeing unfold in northern Japan? The San Onofre nuclear power plant, with its two reactors, is barely 80 miles away on the coast below San Clemente.

According to Southern California Edison officials, that facility can withstand a 7.0-magnitude earthquake and has a seawall to guard against 30-foot high tsunamis, which were the worst-case scenarios given by scientists when the plant was built several decades ago. What does the researchers’ data say today? Have the predictions become more grave, as with those for the San Andreas fault?

What can we do, as individuals, to prepare? I took part in the very first Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training ever held in the Crescenta Valley in 2000. We were trained to help ourselves and our neighbors with immediate life-saving steps in the event of a major disaster, when police, fire and medical professionals and other resources will no doubt be stretched to their limits and may not be able to assist everyone.

The L.A. County Fire Department will be offering CERT training in La Cañada in April and in La Crescenta in June. According to the department’s flier, the course will cover disaster preparedness, fire safety, emergency medical operations including triage, light search-and-rescue operations, CERT organization, disaster psychology and terrorism. There will also be fire extinguisher training and a disaster exercise.

For more information, you can call (661) 287-3690. Class space is limited, so register early.

Additional CERT training programs are coming in May through the Glendale Fire Department. For more information, visit http://fire.ci.glendale.ca.us/certprogram.asp.

SHARON RAGHAVACHARY is on the steering committee for Crescenta Valley Community Assn. and a member of the Family Advisory Council for Children's Hospital Los Angeles. She may be reached at sharonchary@gmail.com.

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