After the experience with hurricanes Katrina and Rita, municipalities all over the country are reassessing their disaster preparations. In California, the main threats from nature are brush fires and earthquakes. The Santa Ana winds that arrive every October fan any flames that start into huge life threatening wildfires. But earthquakes are what Angelenos fear the most, due to their proximity to the San Andreas fault. Are they prepared for the inevitable?

Lucy Jones, a seismologist with the USGS, attended a FEMA meeting where the 3 most likely US catastrophes were presented. Number one was a terrorist attack on New York City. Number two was the danger of hurricanes hitting New Orleans. Number three was a major quake along the San Andreas fault. All this was discussed before 911 and Katrina and Rita. The earthquake is the only disaster that hasn’t yet happened.

In Los Angeles in the last 20 years, almost 9,000 masonry buildings have been reinforced and banks insist on earthquake-proof retrofitting whenever a building changes hands. This retrofitting is designed so allow buildings to sway, rather than crumble, during an earthquake.

Jia-Rui Chong and Hector Becerra report in the LA Times that 900 hospital buildings still need retrofitting or replacement, and 7,000 schools across the state are still vulnerable to quake damage. Some LAPD offices, including the main headquarters downtown, probably wouldn’t survive a major quake.

The LAPD has free details about how to put together an Earthquake preparedness kit.

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