Re­gion un­ready for big quakes

Re­port spot­lights ar­eas where lack of prepa­ra­tion could bring catas­tro­phe.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Rong-Gong Lin II

South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s smaller cities and large busi­nesses must take the threat of a crip­pling earth­quake far more se­ri­ously than they have been, a com­mit­tee of busi­ness, pub­lic pol­icy and util­ity lead­ers said Thurs­day, say­ing ac­tion is needed to “pre­vent the in­evitable dis­as­ter from be­com­ing a catas­tro­phe.”

De­spite strides made by the city of Los An­ge­les to fo­cus on earth­quake safety, South­ern Cal­i­for­nia still faces sig­nif­i­cant threats that haven’t been re­solved.

One of the most omi­nous is the loom­ing threat on the edge of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s sprawl­ing me­trop­o­lis — the Ca­jon Pass. It’s a nar­row moun­tain pass where the San An­dreas fault — Cal­i­for­nia’s long­est and one of its most dan­ger­ous — in­ter­sects with com­bustible nat­u­ral gas and pe­tro­leum

pipelines, elec­tri­cal trans­mis­sion lines, train tracks and In­ter­state 15 north of San Bernardino.

A huge earth­quake on the San An­dreas could move one side of the fault as much as 30 feet from the other. Such an earth­quake would rup­ture flammable pipelines and lead to a cat­a­strophic ex­plo­sion so pow­er­ful it would leave be­hind a crater.

And if util­i­ties aren’t able to shut off the flow of pe­tro­leum or nat­u­ral gas, fire­fight­ers could be help­less to keep a rag­ing wild­fire from spread­ing across the San Gabriel and San Bernardino moun­tains, just as the rest of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia stag­gers from the worst earth­quake it has seen in more than 150 years.

There are so­lu­tions to th­ese prob­lems, said seis­mol­o­gist Lucy Jones, who ad­vised the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Dis­as­ter Risk Ini­tia­tive Com­mit­tee. But lit­tle has been done pre­cisely be­cause many peo­ple don’t know the ex­tent of the prob­lems. Even if they do, fix­ing them seems so daunt­ing.

“Don’t fall into the trap of, ‘It’s so im­pos­si­ble, so we can’t do any­thing,’ or, ‘We have to do ev­ery­thing.’ Take a piece. Get it done. You’re now bet­ter off. Go on to the next one,” Jones said.

Among those push­ing for fixes are ex­ec­u­tives for South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Edi­son, South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Gas Co., Walt Disney Co. and Wells Fargo, along with the Los An­ge­les Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion, USC, the Port of Los An­ge­les and the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Assn. of Gov­ern­ments.

Their pitch: Cre­ate a South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Dis­as­ter Risk Re­duc­tion Ini­tia­tive, in­tended to high­light the un­re­solved earth­quake risks and con­vince de­ci­sion mak­ers to fix them. The group is­sued a re­port with rec­om­men­da­tions on Thurs­day.

“It’s eas­ier to bury your head in the sand, but that’s no longer an ac­cept­able an­swer,” said John Bwarie, the com­mit­tee’s project co­or­di­na­tor.

Here are five ma­jor threats South­ern Cal­i­for­nia faces that could im­peril our abil­ity to re­cover af­ter a mas­sive earth­quake strikes the San An­dreas fault, and how they could be fixed:

1. Fix­ing the Ca­jon Pass. One way to re­duce the risk of catas­tro­phe at the Ca­jon Pass would be to put shut­off valves on both sides of the San An­dreas fault on pe­tro­leum and nat­u­ral gas pipelines. If the pipelines are au­to­mat­i­cally turned off dur­ing the earth­quake, it could pre­vent huge amounts of fuel from be­ing ig­nited if the pipelines break, Jones said. Of­fi­cials say a big quake on the San An­dreas is over­due.

Small changes can make a big dif­fer­ence. Jones re­called the melt­down of a Ja­panese nu­clear power plant af­ter a 9.0 earth­quake and tsunami hit in 2011.

A melt­down might have been avoided had the backup cool­ing sys­tem’s diesel fuel been stored at a higher el­e­va­tion, keep­ing it func­tion­ing even af­ter the tsunami hit, she said.

2. In cities, wa­ter pipes and nat­u­ral gas lines will burst dur­ing shak­ing.

The re­al­ity is dis­turb­ing — burst wa­ter pipes could leave parts of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia with­out run­ning wa­ter for six months. Nat­u­ral gas pipelines can fuel dan­ger­ous city fires.

Some ex­perts point out that it’s im­prac­ti­cal to retro­fit all of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s wa­ter pipes with earth­quake-re­sis­tant, flex­i­ble ver­sions in our life­time. But even some retrofitting would help.

“Not ev­ery pipe in the sys­tems needs to be quake­proof, but by tar­get­ing key leng ths of pipe in the sys­tem, enough can be in place to ad­dress the fire­fight­ing needs of the re­gion,” the re­port said.

In­stalling more re­mote­con­trol gas shut-off valves for nat­u­ral gas trans­mis­sion and high-pres­sure dis­tri­bu­tion pipelines would also help.

3. Large busi­nesses and lo­cal politi­cians may be un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the worstcase sce­nario.

Many peo­ple don’t know how bad the af­ter­math of a huge earth­quake can be: “Wa­ter and power de­liv­ery sys­tems could be off for weeks, hous­ing for tens of thousands could be dam­aged,” the re­port said, an event far worse than ex­pe­ri­enced by veter­ans of the 1994 Northridge earth­quake.

Large busi­nesses need to de­velop a plan for get­ting back to work as quickly as pos­si­ble. The worst-case sce­nario would be that ma­jor in­dus­tries, such as aero­space, give up and leave South­ern Cal­i­for­nia if the re­gion re­mains dys­func­tional for too long.

That means busi­nesses like banks need to know how to get their branches run­ning as quickly as pos­si­ble, per­haps by in­stalling backup gen­er­a­tors and keep­ing caches of emer­gency sup­plies on site.

If it’s too hard to have a home im­prove­ment chain keep all of its branches open in, say, Granada Hills, Northridge and Chatsworth, per­haps one plan would be to keep just the Northridge store op­er­a­tional, Bwarie said.

4. Many South­ern Cal­i­for­ni­ans don’t know their neigh­bors, and that’s go­ing to hurt neigh­bor­hoods’ abil­ity to re­cover.

A key fac­tor that could de­ter­mine what neigh­bor­hoods sur­vive and which ones are aban­doned af­ter an earth­quake is how well the neigh­bor­hood works to­gether to re­cover, in­stead of giv­ing up and leav­ing town.

South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, un­for­tu­nately, has a rep­u­ta­tion for neigh­bors not know­ing one an­other.

But things can be done to help es­tab­lish a sense of com­mu­nity, such as cities en­cour­ag­ing block par­ties or or­ga­niz­ing peo­ple to check in on one an­other af­ter an earth­quake.

One idea Jones is work­ing on at her own church is cre­at­ing a sys­tem in which peo­ple are as­signed to check on one an­other af­ter an earth­quake hits, and com­plete a drill an­nu­ally.

5. Many cities do not re­quire col­lapse-prone build­ings to be retro­fit­ted.

The city of Los An­ge­les has moved ahead on re­quir­ing apart­ments and con­crete build­ings at risk of col­lapse to be retro­fit­ted, but most of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s vast sub­urbs have not fol­lowed suit.

In fact, there are cities that haven’t even done what Los An­ge­les be­gan in the 1980s: re­quir­ing the retro­fit of deadly brick build­ings, whose bricks turn into pro­jec­tiles in even slight shak­ing. The two women who died in the 2003 San Simeon earth­quake in Paso Robles died as the fa­cade of an un­retrofitted brick build­ing col­lapsed.

An­other prob­lem: The min­i­mum stan­dard for new build­ings per­mits them to be so se­verely dam­aged in an earth­quake that it might need to be torn down. The only re­quire­ment is that peo­ple not be killed by that build­ing in an earth­quake.

“Cities have to ask them­selves: Are you ap­prov­ing build­ings that are de­signed to fail — but won’t kill any­one? That doesn’t do much for our econ­omy,” Bwarie said.

The com­mit­tee sug­gests cre­at­ing a uni­form stan­dard that would make it eas­ier for build­ing own­ers to choose higher lev­els of min­i­mum safety, such as a build­ing that would re­main in op­er­a­tion even af­ter a sig­nif­i­cant earth­quake.

“South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s vul­ner­a­bil­ity to nat­u­ral dis­as­ters de­mands that we look for­ward and pre­pare,” Hasan Ikhrata, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Assn. of Gov­ern­ments, said in a state­ment. “It is crit­i­cal to our econ­omy, and to the 18 mil­lion res­i­dents in the re­gion.”

Ken Lubas Los An­ge­les Times

SYL­MAR RES­I­DENT Brian Demetz runs from his burn­ing home on Jan. 17, 1994, af­ter the Northridge earth­quake. A re­port calls for a new push to high­light un­re­solved risks and con­vince de­ci­sion mak­ers to fix them.

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