A week after Mayor Eric Garcetti signed the nation's strictest earthquake laws mandating vulnerable buildings retrofit their facilities, Park La Brea apartments management held a Great ShakeOut event to help prepare residents for the possibility of "the Big One."
The Los Angeles Fire Department demonstrates a high-rise rescue drill of a trapped resident last week at Park La Brea’s Tower 49. (photo by Gregory Cornfield)
Although presenters all but guaranteed a big earthquake to hit the city within the next 30 years, they also helped ease fears.
Cameron Barrett of MySafe:LA, displayed a poster for Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson's movie "San Andreas" that showed downtown Los Angeles splitting in half and falling apart.
"That wouldn't happen," she said. "Fault lines won't fall apart. [Park La Brea's] Tower 49 won't fall into a crevice."
My:SafeLA executive officer David Barrett said buildings in Los Angeles are stronger than most other cities in other countries. MySafe:LA held an educational seminar for Park La Brea residents as part of The Great ShakeOut – an annual international earthquake awareness initiative. At 10:15 a.m. on Oct. 15, more than 21 million people worldwide participated in the Great ShakeOut by practicing the "drop, cover and hold on" survival strategy.
MySafe:LA recommends people drop onto their knees, cover their head and neck with hands and arms, and crawl to shelter under a sturdy table or desk and hold onto it.
Mark Bantheny, creator of the Great Shakeout, said it is important that residents remind themselves of how to react to an earthquake "because it could happen at anytime."
"The Northridge earthquake was not a big earthquake," he said. "San Andreas will be 56 times bigger. Northridge was about 20 seconds long, but San Andreas will be almost 2 minutes long."
He said if you are in your bed during an earthquake, you should stay put. He said the best bet is to try to get to the ground. He told residents if they are in a car during an earthquake to pull over and use the parking brake.
MySafe:LA advises people to not run outside during an earthquake. Cameron Barrett told residents to make a plan and practice it, to store and maintain five days of food and water and to collaborate with family and friends.
Guest speaker Eric Poppleton, a photographer who was working in Nepal during the earthquake on April 25 that killed more than 9,000 people and injured more than 20,000, told the story of his survival.
"Everyone started running," he said. "Everyone went outside. We couldn't make any phone calls."
Cameron Barrett said scientists knew an earthquake could hit Nepal, and they know it could happen in Los Angeles.
To finish the presentation, attendees practiced drop, cover and hold on exercises.
Afterwards, the Los Angeles Fire Department demonstrated a high-rise rescue drill of a trapped resident at Park La Brea's Tower 49. The community's towers may be subject to retrofit changes after the city adopted its new retrofit requirements.
"Los Angeles makes good on our promise to take action before it's too late. Together, we're leading the nation in requiring this level of building safety retrofit before, not after, the big quake we know is coming," Garcetti said. "We know that it's not just the lives lost, but the lasting social and economic effects that we can avoid by strengthening our city's skeleton – our buildings – and protecting our communities."
The ordinance requires mandatory seismic retrofitting for two of L.A.'s most vulnerable types of buildings: non-ductile reinforced concrete, and what are known as soft first-story buildings built before 1980. Soft first-story buildings are wood frame buildings that have a large opening on the first floor for things like tuck-under parking, garage doors and retail display windows.
Park La Brea apartments are in the category of non-ductile reinforced concrete buildings built before 1980.
Park La Brea management said they support the ordinance and they are engaging with city officials to begin the discussion about meeting the new requirements.
"The specifics about what that will look like for our concrete buildings are not yet clear, given where we are in this process," said John Burney, director of resident services for Park La Brea.
Under the new ordinance for non-ductile reinforced concrete structures, building owners will have three years to submit documentation to the city to begin the inspection process, and 10 years to establish whether an acceptable retrofit has already been conducted or that a retrofit is required. Property owners would have 25 years to complete the retrofit work.
Approximately 13,500 soft first-story buildings have been identified by the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety as subject to the ordinance, and approximately 1,500 non-ductile reinforced concrete buildings have been identified in a study released by U.C. Berkeley last year. The department of building and safety will send information on the new law to building owners, along with instructions on how to comply.
"As an engaged stakeholder in this community, we have been participating actively in the discussions about citywide earthquake readiness," Burney said. "This has always been a top priority for Park La Brea. Our facilities have been closely monitored over the years – as all buildings in Los Angeles are – by several different regulatory agencies to ensure that they are safe for residents."
Burney explained the Los Angeles Housing Department inspects each of Park La Brea's units every four years as part of its Systematic Code Enforcement Program (SCEP). He said during the process, trained experts approve the units based on safety and habitability criteria.
"If a major structural safety issue existed in any of our buildings, we are confident it would come to light through these inspections," he said. "We expect that the performance of our buildings in the event of an earthquake would be comparable to more recently constructed buildings, and significantly better than the average concrete building constructed 40 to 50 years ago."
The city council is still determining how the retrofit costs will be shared. Current law allows owners to increase monthly rents by $75. The housing department suggested that renters and owners split the costs, allowing owners to increase rent by $38.
The Coalition for Economic Survival (CES) has opposed the current law.
"With L.A. being the most unaffordable rental city, with tenants having the largest rent burden, having the highest poverty rate, with the most overcrowded housing conditions and greatest number of homeless on our streets in the nation, renters cannot afford a $1 rent increase, let alone a $75 increase," the organization said in a release.
The coalition said it has received assurances from Garcetti, City Attorney Mike Feuer and Los Angeles City Council Housing Committee chair Gil Cedillo that the cost sharing law will be changed.