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Northridge earthquake: 18 years later

Emergency: Public agencies ready for the next big quake

Posted: January 17, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: January 17, 2012 1:55 a.m.

The Highway 14-Interstate 5 interchange is seen collapsed following the Northridge earthquake on Jan. 17, 1994.

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Eighteen years ago today, the earth shook, freeways crumbled, and thousands of people were injured during the Northridge earthquake — one of the most severe temblors to hit the Santa Clarita Valley area and one of 11 disasters that has befallen the city in the past 24 years.

“In Santa Clarita, there’s no question of if we’ll have an emergency — it’s when we’ll have an emergency,” City Manager Ken Pulskamp said.

Because of the geology and topography of the area, the Santa Clarita Valley is prone to fires, floods and earthquakes, Pulskamp said. The most recent declared emergency for the city was during the Buckweed fire, which destroyed dozens of area homes in 2007.

These issues have led city and fire officials to improve their emergency preparedness.

Before the Northridge earthquake struck in 1994, the less-damaging Whittier Narrows earthquake hit the Los Angeles area in 1987. It taught Los Angeles County fire officials that they needed to improve their rescue training and collapsed-building training, according to Los Angeles County Fire Department Battalion Chief Larry Collins.

Fire officials then developed the Urban Search and Rescue Program, with specific training for earthquakes and collapsed buildings, said Collins. He added that the Northridge earthquake tested the new systems and showed that they worked.

“What we learned in Northridge is that public education is huge,” Collins said. “The more we get the public engaged, the better.”

Pulskamp also emphasized the role of citizens in ensuring that they are prepared for all emergencies, including earthquakes.
He said all residents need to know how to turn off their gas and water and where the shut-offs are. Residents also need to have at least a 72-hour supply of medicine, food, clothing, water and battery-powered lights.

Santa Clarita officials have made preparing for emergencies a high priority, both in terms of public education and staff preparation, Pulskamp said.

Regular mock emergency training exercises are conducted with city and other agency staff to help prepare for future emergencies, he said.

City Hall is designated as an emergency center, with the Transit Maintenance Facility designated as a secondary facility in case City Hall is damaged during a disaster.

After the Northridge earthquake, the emergency center had to be moved to the parking lot because of fears that the building wasn’t sound. The city has since received a grant to make the building earthquake-safe.

In addition, the city has a large generator in case of power failures and emergency communications equipment.

The Sheriff’s Department has an emergency operations center trailer, Pulskamp said.

The city has also prepared for future floods and fires, working closely with the Fire Department to make sure people keep the area clear around their homes and encouraging residents to replace their wood shake roofs.

“Hopefully over the next 24 years, we won’t have 11 more disasters,” Pulskamp said.


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