What Los Angeles Should Learn From The Disaster in Japan

April 18, 2011  |  

On a typical workday in Los Angeles, it could take a well-intentioned driver approximately 90 minutes to drive from the beach cities to the other side of town during rush hour, maybe more.

On a typical day that is…

Earthquakes are a rather routine occurrence in Los Angeles.  When they occur, Facebook and Twitter are usually the preferred method of communication to check on friends and loved ones.  This is because mobile phone networks are easily overwhelmed.  Calls will not go through and text messages may not arrive until hours later.

During routine earthquakes that is…

The recent disaster in Japan should have changed the approach of Angelenos, its municipal government and first responders regarding a major disaster.  Unfortunately, as of yet, it hasn’t.

Conventional earthquake preparedness in California preaches completely ineffective strategies. Historically, attention has been paid to the idea of a major land-based event with an urban epicenter: store water, stay away from power lines, stock up on non-perishables, keep a portable flashlight handy, etc.  We all know the drill here in L.A.

The Pacific Ring of Fire, which lines virtually all landmasses facing the Pacific Ocean (including Los Angeles), was the origination point of the Japan quake.  It is also responsible for the majority of earthquakes and volcanic activity on the planet.  The recent 8.9 earthquake off the coast of Honshu created a tsunami that reached land within minutes and swept up inland by 10 miles.  The 405 Freeway, which has earned the dubious distinction of being the most congested highway in the world, generally runs two-10 miles from the Pacific coastline as it snakes between Los Angeles and San Diego.

You should see where I’m going with this now.

To make matters worse, Los Angeles is bordered by not one, but two nuclear power plants–one north and the other south.  Both are within two hour drives and also sit on the coast.  Although local officials have maintained that the plants could withstand a comparable earthquake, there’s been little discussion as to the impact of a tsunami.  If Japan is any guide, we should be more concerned with the tsunami and the radiation havoc it could wreak.

In short, the city of Los Angeles seems convinced that its infrastructure and residents are prepared at the minimum for an 8.9 earthquake on land.  We are not.  Move that same earthquake just slightly into the Pacific Ocean and the disaster increases exponentially.  In the minutes following such an event, the coastal communities and the 405 freeway could be wiped out, if Japan is any guide. There will likely be a citywide loss of power and an overwhelmed mobile phone network.  Imagine navigating a flooded city in the black of night with no power amid floating houses, bodies and aftershocks of 6.5 and higher.

If you thought the devastation of Hurricane Katrina was bad, this would be a hundred times worse.

Depending on one’s cynicism, whereas race and class played a huge role in New Orleans, such devastation in Los Angeles would be indiscriminate.  The socioeconomic layout of Los Angeles is such that African-Americans would not be disproportionately impacted. It just means we’d all die together horribly, irrespective of race.  Lower income and majority-minority neighborhoods are just as routinely found within 10 miles of the coast as majority-white ones.

Although nobody can predict the next major disaster in Los Angeles, we can remain diligent in petitioning our elected leaders to be proactive and not reactive in disaster preparedness.

Disaster preparedness must now include tsunami and radiation contingencies.  There needs to be increased pressure placed on state officials to devise realistic evacuation strategies in the hours and days after a major earthquake.  The disaster in Japan should not only mark the loss of life, but it should also serve as the starting point for saving thousands more in the future.

Morris W. O’Kelly (Mo’Kelly) is author of the syndicated entertainment and socio-political column The Mo’Kelly Report. For more Mo’Kelly, http://mrmokelly.com. Mo’Kelly can be reached at mrmokelly@gmail.com and he welcomes all commentary. Follow Morris W. O’Kelly on Twitter: @mrmokelly


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