Katrina, Northridge, and San Francisco

In a post late last night, cellio, via siderea, pointed out this site that provides a timeline of the 1906 earthquake:

The earthquake struck at 5:13 AM.

By 7 AM federal troops had reported to the mayor.

By 8 AM they were patrolling the entire downtown area and searching for survivors.

The second quake struck at 8:14 AM.

By 10:05 AM the USS Chicago was on its way from San Diego to San Francisco; by 10:30 the USS Preble had landed a medical team and set up an emergency hospital.

By 11 AM large parts of the city were on fire; troops continued to arrive throughout the day, evacuating people from the areas threatened by fire to emergency shelters and Golden Gate Park.

St. Mary’s hospital was destroyed by the fire at 1 PM, with no loss of life, the staff and patients having already been evacuated across the bay to Oakland.

By 3 PM troops had shot several looters, and dynamited buildings to make a firebreak; by five they had buried dozens of corpses, the morgue and the police pistol range being unable to hold any more.

At 8:40 PM General Funston requested emergency housing – tents and shelters – from the War Department in Washington; all of the tents in the U.S. Army were on their way to San Francisco by 4:55 AM the next morning.

Prisoners were evacuated to Alcatraz, and by April 20 (two days after the earthquake) the USS Chicago had reached San Francisco, where it evacuated 20,000 refugees.

I think it is constructive to compare this response to both the response to Hurricane Katrina and the 1994 Northridge Earthquake (as well as the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake). I do this not to pick on the FEMA and the folks in LA/MI/AL, for they have enough to answer for. Rather, I do it to draw attention to how badly California is prepared.

My contention is that response was somewhat slower after Northridge, but not much. But are we ready for the “Big One”. I’m certainly not, after the move. I want to get a storage shed and put it in the backyard, storing water, emergency food, earthquake and camping supplies in it. I feel this is prudent and appropriate for the area (the new house did sustain EQ damage in 1994). But I can’t do anything about infrastructure (other than the EQ valve): that’s the cities job. I’m not sure they are up to it

There have been some recent articles related to this. Channel 4 here in LA did a report on this. They noted that nearly one-third of the California Army National Guard troops are overseas in hot spots like Iraq, and that in a major disaster in Los Angeles, we might need every one of the 18,000 California guardsmen. Other resources are also out, for example, the 16 black hawk helicopters stationed at Los Alamitos Armory near Long Beach. The choppers are the same type rescuing victims in New Orleans… and are unavailable because they are in Iraq. FEMA has also been reducing preparation. According to the Daily News, the $25 million Project Impact program, unveiled in Santa Monica in 1997, funded about 250 cities and counties for everything from retrofitting schools and hospitals in earthquake zones to building fortified safe rooms in tornado-prone regions. Los Angeles was not among the nine California communities that participated in Project Impact. However, in 2001, Bush called the program “ineffective” and zeroed it out of his proposed budget. FEMA ultimately replaced it with a program of mitigation grants awarded on a competitive basis. These grants, according to an NPR report, were more focused on terrorism than disaster preparedness. The Los Angeles Times has noted that Katrina has highlighted weaknesses in the state’s levy system (hear that Sacramento), and refocused attention on the vulnerability of the water system.

Folks, Earthquakes will happen here, and we need to be prepared. Let’s figure out how to make our response like 1906, and not 2005.