Preparing for Disasters 26 Years After the Northridge Earthquake

Twenty six years ago today our region was rocked awake by the 6.7 magnitude Northridge Earthquake which left 57 dead, almost 9,000 injured and caused billions of dollars of damage up to 90 miles from the epicenter. This event remains one of the worst natural disasters to face our city and this anniversary reminds all of us that these sorts of emergencies can happen at any time.

At the time I was working for Congressman Howard Berman and I will never forget the devastation our community faced. Our office was red-tagged and we converted an old jail into our district office so we could distribute needed supplies as we tried to coordinate multiple levels of relief efforts. From FEMA, SBA to other agencies, we successfully got assistance to help Valley residents but the quake forced us to become a better prepared city for any and all natural disasters we might face in the future.

It was not easy to get a $14 billion aid package approved by Congress- at the time there was a fight about ‘offsets’ that could have severely reduced the amount of funds that would come to our region. We have seen similar fights in Washington around natural disaster funding in recent years. While we avoided the prediction that the San Fernando Valley would become a ghost town, victims of Hurricane Katrina were not as lucky and the government was far less effective. As we have seen fire season expand to year-round in California, I still worry that we need to be more self-reliant.

As climate change continues to make our summers hotter, droughts more severe, and fires larger and unpredictable, emergencies such as fires and floods are more likely and can happen at any time with little to no warning. Every year we see situations like the Woolsey and Hill Fires. Those fires burned approximately 70,000 acres and about 250,000 people were evacuated in total. Within hours people were evacuated and many were housed in my district at locations such as Taft High School, Pierce College, and Canoga Park High School. Also several hundred animals from horses to dogs to turtles had to be rescued.

It didn’t matter that the bulk of the fire was not in the City of Los Angeles. The fire didn’t recognize City boundaries, so my staff and I joined countless volunteers and put boots on the ground to help the victims. Just like the Northridge Earthquake, we saw that a vast amount of Angelenos were under-prepared for emergencies. The ‘Big One’ shouldn’t be treated like a hypothetical- it’s not if, it’s when.
There are easy steps that all of us can take today to be more prepared such as:

• Have a ‘go bag’ in the car and in your home. This includes emergency rations for you and your pets, water, a first aid kit, extra clothes, prescription drugs, batteries and things like a transistor radio.

• Download the new ShakeAlertLA app ( to your iPhone or Android so you are warned before impending earthquakes.

• Have phone numbers and contact information written down on paper in a safe place.

• Designate a friend or loved one who lives far away to serve as the point of contact for your family to check in with in case local communication is not working properly.

• Put some cash away just in case ATMs/the internet goes down.

If you want to learn more about how to be better prepared for natural disasters and my work on this issue, please go to

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