Preparing the West Valley for the Next Disaster

Blumenfield assembles his Emergency BobCAT on Disaster Preparedness and hundreds of West Valley volunteers to rapidly distribute emergency supplies to evacuees of the Woolsey Fire

Emergency Preparedness has long been one of my top priorities — a passion forged by the 1994 Northridge Earthquake and my extensive work helping the Valley recover. From building a robust emergency preparedness volunteer action committee that has stepped up during disasters, to hosting LAFD CERT trainings at my District Office, to passing legislation designed to bolster readiness --my goal is to make every West Valley resident better prepared for the next disaster. Remember, it's not "if" but "when" the next disaster will strike. Read below to learn more about some of my efforts to expand emergency preparedness.

Learn more about how Councilmember Blumenfield assembled a community action team that has taken unprecedented steps to keep the West Valley safe and well-stocked with essentials for the next disaster, and learn all about how you can be better prepared and look out for your community.

 

BobCAT on Emergency Preparedness

WHAT IS THE BOBCAT ON EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS?

Blumenfield’s BobCAT (Community Action Team) on Emergency Preparedness is led by a committed group of community volunteers with expertise on keeping our community safe when disaster strikes. More than a decade ago, when Blumenfield served in the State Assembly, he brought together folks who shared his passion for emergency preparedness to develop training and protocols for how to better deal with future emergencies.  He originally called the group the Valley Public Response for Emergency Preparedness (VPREP), but changed the name when he became a Councilmember and was putting together a series of other issue based Community Action Teams. 

This Emergency Preparedness BobCat has grown tremendously in scope and purpose over the last ten years. They have become such an integral part of Blumenfield’s team that they have permanent office space at his district office where they have established an emergency center of operations with everything from HAM radios, to first aid, to rations of all types. And, in the parking lot they have established a secure Volunteer Point of Distribution pod (VPOD) filled with even more goods for any type of emergency that hits.  They have also successfully placed VPODs at other key locations around the district and around the City in furtherance of their preparedness mission.

Blumenfield and BobCAT chairs Nathan Wolfstein and Jaime Pelligrini have also been working with groups ranging from the Boy Scouts to Rotary Clubs teaching community members how they can be better prepared as well as working with the City of Los Angeles and surrounding municipalities on disaster preparedness legislation and action.

However, the most impressive feat of the BobCat has to do with the collection, management, storage and distribution of vast amounts of emergency supplies.  The BobCat, along with a non-profit arm created by its members, has established warehouses and depot locations where it collects and stores critical supplies for when disaster strikes.  They acquire the supplies through donations and they keep them fresh and ready for distribution through bartering and volunteer efforts.  They have established a new model for volunteer donations management that FEMA and others have been studying and trying to duplicate. 

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Blumenfield with his BobCAT leadership in their warehouse during the Saddleridge Fire. 

 

WHAT DOES THE BOBCAT DO DURING A FIRE OR EARTHQUAKE?

The BobCAT assists in several ways- the prep, the immediate aftermath, and the recovery. They work hand in hand with Blumenfield’s staff. In addition to helping residents prepare for emergencies, they are ready to lead and assist the Red Cross, other nonprofits, and governmental agencies moments after a disaster. They have several large warehouses in the West Valley which are now filled with donated and bartered goods ready to be delivered whenever and where ever needed. They have an established nonprofit arm- Community Outreach Promoting Emergency Preparedness (COPE). And now, after several years, their nonprofit is officially contracted to serve the entire city and has even sent supplies to disaster areas around the country.  

During the Woolsey Fire in 2018, they successfully deployed existing supplies to evacuation centers within a few hours of those sites opening.  They then established a system to collect and distribute over 100,000 pounds of goods including pet foods, diapers, energy bars, canned foods as well as necessities for our firefighters like Visine and sunscreen.  Instead of people donating directly to the already chaotic evacuation sites (something the site managers did not want and were not equipped to handle), the BobCat collected the needed goods centrally (at Blumenfield’s office) and distributed exactly what was needed to each site when they needed it and in a manner where it could be effectively managed and distributed.  The Woolsey fire response proved the success of the BobCat model.

Many aid workers told Blumenfield’s team that the outpouring of community support was unprecedented and that they were overwhelmed by how much love was showed to neighbors in need. But, if the protocols weren’t in place to collect and get the donations to the evacuees, the effort would not have been successful.  

After the Woolsey fire Blumenfield said, “People used to question my sanity for having warehouses full of emergency supplies and a community action team dedicated to keeping the supplies fresh and accessible. While this crisis may not have proved my sanity, it did prove the tremendous value of the BobCAT, its members, and their mission.”

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Blumenfield meeting with volunteers and evacuees during the Woolsey Fire.

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Inside on of the BobCAT's warehouses.

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A truck filled with donated goods ready to go to evacuated Angelenos.

 

 

 

WHAT DOES THE EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS BOBCAT HAVE TO DO WITH TEACHER GIVE-AWAYS OR HOMELESS GIVE AWAYS?

Councilmember Blumenfield at Teacher School Supplies Giveaway

Because the BobCAT has developed both the capacity and the expertise to accept large shipments of donated merchandise, sometimes opportunities arise to acquire non-emergency merchandise when companies have overstocked, gone out of business or for other reasons. The BobCAT had the opportunity to acquire more than $1 million dollars worth of school supplies at one point which enabled Councilmember Blumenfield to put together a special teacher give-away.  

At this give-away the BobCAT partnered with the UTLA and the School District to set up a day of “free shopping” for teachers in the West Valley.  They laid out all of the school supplies from the BobCAT’s warehouse in a large parking lot and invited LAUSD teachers to come and take whatever they needed. The supplies included instructional materials, classroom decorations, workbooks, equipment, pencils,  and more. 

Similarly, sometimes the BobCAT is able to receive truckload of donated supplies that may not be needed for emergency preparedness but can be used to help people in need.  In such instances, the BobCAT team breaks down the supplies into more manageable quantities and donates them to appropriate groups that serve the homeless or other people in need.  The BobCAT has been able to give pet supplies to rescue groups in the past in a similar manner.

 

Being Prepared

WHAT CAN I DO RIGHT NOW TO BE MORE PREPARED?

One of the most important ways you can help is by making sure you are prepared. The easiest ways to start is by packing a ‘go bag’ for you and your family that will last a few days as well as create an emergency plan. As for the go bag, some of the things to keep in mind can be found here.

  • Water
  • Canned food
  • Extra clothes
  • Animal food if you have pets
  • First aid kit
  • Prescription medicine
  • Copies of important documents like a social security card or deed to a home
  • Some petty cash

When talking with your family about an emergency plan, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • 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.

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During the Woolsey Fire, Blumenfield and his BobCAT welcomed hundreds of volunteers to his District Office to help organize and dispatch 100,000 lbs of donated goods to evacuees throughout the West Valley. 

 

CERT PROGRAM

CAN I BE TRAINED TO HELP IN A DISASTER?

Yes, one of the best ways is to become CERT trained. There are also opportunities to join Blumenfield’s Bobcat. To learn more but also please reach out to BobCAT Chair Nathan Wolfstein.

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Blumenfield regularly opens up his District Office for CERT Training taught by LAFD.

 

Reflection on the 1994 Northridge Earthquake

In 1994 our City was rocked by the Northridge Earthquake, a 6.7 magnitude quake that left behind a staggering aftermath of 57 deaths, 9,000 injuries and more than $20 billion in damage. It was one of those experiences where anyone who experienced it remembers exactly where they were. It seared into my consciousness the importance of emergency preparedness and is the reason why this has been one of my top priorities since the first day I was elected to public office. 

When the quake hit, I was working for Congressman Howard Berman and I vividly remember the devastation and heartache our community faced. I remember that his district office was red-tagged and we had to set up shop in the old San Fernando jail, so we could hand out supplies and water to constituents in need while coordinating a massive relief effort involving every level of government. I spent the next year working with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Small Business Administration (SBA) and other agencies to help Valley residents recover and get assistance they needed. The earthquake forced us to become a better prepared city for any and all natural disasters we might face in the future.

I also remember the difficulty we had getting the massive $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.  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.

Fires, floods and earthquakes can happen at any time with no warning, especially with climate change making our summers hotter, droughts more severe, and horrible fires more likely. In 2018, and the recent 2019 fires, we saw incredible devastation and how storms can cause mudslides and flooding throughout the region. The Woolsey and Hill fires burned approximately 70,000 acres and about 250,000 people were evacuated in total. Overnight evacuees were told to leave their homes 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.

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Councilmember Bob Blumenfield

Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Councilmember Blumenfield and his BobCAT have stepped up to the challenge to rapidly supply residents of the West Valley with PPE and other vital supplies.

Through the leadership from Nathan Wolfstein and Jamie Pellegrini, the BobCAT on Disaster Preparedness quickly dispatched 800,000 masks at the outset of the pandemic. By coordinating with the LAPD the BobCAT was able to distribute these masks to stations, which were then dispersed to homeless shelters, nonprofits and other high-need areas. The BobCAT was also able to distribute 1.7 Million cloth masks from FEMA to the Boys and Girls Club, Native American Tribal reservations and other groups and other communities also in need outside of the West Valley. 

Also, the pandemic caused an immediate food shortage among local food pantries and non-profits that serve the needy.  Many of the grocery stores and restaurants that normally donate to these pantry’s were suddenly unable to do so (restaurants were closed/food overstocks were rare) and many of their volunteers (often retired/older people) were staying home.  This crises was compounded by the fact that the need for food spiked at the very same moment because so many people were suddenly without a job or income. The BobCat stepped up by immediately delivering truckloads and pallets full of canned food and other non-perishables to these groups from their emergency warehouses which were full of forward- deployed emergency supplies.  This created a lifeline for many (including West Valley Food Pantry, Guadeloupe Center, OneGeneration, etc) and got them stabilized until they could establish or resume a more regular supply chain of donated food. 

When COVID-19 testing and vaccine sites opened in the West Valley, the BobCAT was there to support the CORE and LAFD staff on-scene by supplying them with PPE, water and food. Over the course of the pandemic, over 700 pallets of supplies were dispersed.

In addition to the hard work of Blumenfield's Emergency Preparedness BobCAT, the Councilmember also has run several mask giveaways for community members in need of PPE. Blumenfield and his staff personally delivered thousands of masks to residents and also coordinated dozens of drive-thru events outside of the District Office so residents of the West Valley could be better protected against COVID-19.

Seismic Retrofit and other legislation

Expanding Seismic Retrofit in LA

Under Councilmember Blumenfield's leadership, the City in 2015 included seismic retrofits in the state’s successful Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program, which lets property owners finance specific upgrades through an assessment on their property taxes. This move is designed to give property owners a practical tool to help finance the costs of necessary retrofits that will enhance the City’s resiliency in the event of a major earthquake.

As an Assemblymember, Blumenfield authored and passed the legislation that expanded the PACE program for energy conservation and added new provisions for water efficiency upgrades. He also was a strong proponent of the 2011 legislation that added seismic retrofits to the program. As a Councilmember, Blumenfield also successfully pushed for City participation in PACE’s water and energy financing programs.

 

Making LA the First City to Enact Quake Safety Standards on New Cellphone Towers

Concerned about the damage cell towers could create in the event of a destructive earthquake, Blumenfield authored a measure in 2015 to approve seismic standards for all new cellphone towers. When this passed, LA became the first City in the US to approve seismic standards in an ongoing effort to strengthen communications infrastructure in preparation for the next big quake. There has not been a major quake in CA since cellphone and wifi became commonplace, and Cities need to have strong standards in place to maintain local communication systems. Blumenfield's measure effectively requires all new freestanding cellphone towers to be built to the same seismic standards as public safety facilities. 

Laying out a Fire Safe Council for Community Preparedness

As part of an ongoing effort to promote public safety and emergency preparedness, Councilmember Blumenfield has been working alongside the Los Angeles Fire Department to build a community resiliency plan for his district so residents are more prepared for a destructive natural disaster. 

The LAFD is currently focused on establishing a Fire Safe Council which incorporates the efforts of the community combined with the expertise of LAFD to educate and protect the community from wildland fires.

Stay tuned for more information about this important, life-saving initiative. 



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