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.
Councilmember Bob Blumenfield