The Big One: Will We Have Cable?

Monday, 28 Oct 2013, 9:01:00 AM

Steve Stajich

Steve Stajich, Columnist
Santa Monica Mirror Archives
Steve Stajich, Columnist

It’s cyclical but without specific seasons or dates. It can strike at any time and take on a magnitude of its own. It is, in itself, a kind of quake. I’m talking about the return of Fear of The Big One.

I’m not declaring that the season for Fear of The Big One is “open”; that’s not for me to say. But a recent string of events may at least qualify as a precursor. And while “fear” is more dramatic we can easily substitute something with a cooler tone, such as “High Anxiety over Preparedness” or even “Lots of Chatter Out There About The Big One.”

This business in the LA Times about concrete buildings being unsafe certainly opens the door to speculation about a big quake. From a Times editorial on August 18: “Concrete structures may look sturdy and durable, but the ones built without steel reinforcing bars, known as rebar, are actually brittle and run the risk of collapsing in a strong earthquake. That’s a problem Los Angeles cannot continue to ignore.” Because retrofitting of existing concrete buildings was not compelled after building codes changed, a Times investigation estimates that up to 1,000 buildings could be vulnerable.

A big “Boo!”… just in time for Halloween.

Then there’s the reporting of sudden collapses in other countries where building codes are something of a dark joke, which only makes us more anxious here about our own infrastructures and buildings. Domestically, we’re now regularly hearing warnings about a bridge somewhere that’s due to give way any minute. However, it was a small item in The Mirror’s online edition that actually pulled my attention back – as it should be pulled back – to anticipating a big quake. Here, where we all live.

It was an announcement of Saturday’s American Red Cross “Family Preparedness Fair,” designed to make Santa Monica a more disaster-prepared community. Hands-on activities and demonstrations will include instructions on CPR and building a preparedness kit.  

Of course we can only prepare to a certain level individually, and then there has to be coordinated preparedness from the agencies whose job it is to assist in a disaster. This may be an unfair comparison, but it took Hurricane Katrina and the human suffering that followed to show both the federal and local governments the gaps in their preparedness for a break in the levees. Here we’re getting substantial reporting that concrete buildings will crumble and we’ve wondered for years if our plans are good enough if a Big One, even if it’s not THE Big One, arrives.

But that’s just me carping about a situation that to large extent can’t be known until it is known and I’m certain my feelings of powerlessness are reflected in those concerns, as I think they are for all of us. Let’s instead look at a few simple things that we can prepare ourselves for, both in terms of supplies and our mentality toward what could be inconceivable disaster.

We can give blood. A few months ago this column had some, um, hopefully helpful notes regarding the Santa Monica Red Cross blood collection site but nothing stops me from continuing to donate there. The need for blood supplies in any sort of “Big One” will be overwhelming. Know that you prepared for yourself, your family, and your community by donating now and continuing to donate when you can.

We can respect water. Having just begun regular visits to 29 Palms, I can tell you that you that the desert deepens your respect for water. If a Big One comes to greater LA and Santa Monica, our regard for essential water will need to improve quickly. In a disaster, water might even become a kind of currency. Think about that as you continue singing that Bee Gees medley in the shower, the water running on and on.

We can talk. Take an evening with your family at the dinner table, and talk through a few situations that might become realities in the event of a massive and damaging quake.  Don’t scare them; just preview what it could be like. There would be no cable. Radio, that creaky retro media we’ve set aside in favor of our screens, would become an important link to updated information especially if cell phone systems crash. There might not be electricity for weeks, or longer. Helping others might become everybody’s day job. Preparation always includes that cache of earthquake supplies you’ve secured somewhere, but preparedness is a mindset not easily instilled before the earth moves.

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