How Los Angeles plans to survive the Big One

Posted by | January 13, 2015 | Blog | No Comments

A massive earthquake is inevitable. But now L.A. is finally beginning to prepare for the worst — and it has ‘Earthquake Lady’ Lucy Jones to thank.

The product of a year long collaboration between scientists and stakeholders, the 126-page package of earthquake safety recommendations focuses on fixing the three weakest elements of L.A.’s urban infrastructure: its pre-1980 buildings, its creaky, convoluted water system and its vulnerable telecommunications network. All in all, the report represents a “tectonic shift” in the city’s thinking, according to Garcetti.

After Garcetti spoke, a city councilman named Gil Cedillo stepped to the podium. That day, in the early hours of the morning, a huge fire had engulfed a downtown apartment complex the size of an entire city block — 1.3 million square feet in all. From the windows of his nearby flat, Cedillo watched 250 firefighters battle the “brilliant” flames and contemplated how much worse a major earthquake would be.

Think of that times 16,” Cedillo said. “Where would we be times 16?”

But just then, a woman’s voice interrupted him. It came from his left. “Sixteen hundred,” the voice said — as in, Los Angeles County would actually have to contend with 1,600 simultaneous fires after a major San Andreas earthquake, not 16.

Sixteen hundred!” Cedillo repeated automatically. Then he stopped. The magnitude of what he’d just said suddenly hit him. “Oh, my God!” he said with a gasp. He looked incredulous. “Sixteen hundred?” he asked. As in, are you sure?

“Yep,” the voice said.

“That’s unthinkable,” Cedillo whispered. “And so I…” He trailed off. He couldn’t get over it. He leaned back. “Sixteen hundred?” he asked off-mike — one more time, just to be sure.

“Yes,” the voice said. Its owner nodded benevolently. She sounded like a schoolteacher correcting the same student mistake for the thousandth time.

Her name was Lucy Jones — and as the driving force behind Garcetti’s report, she may one day be remembered as the crusader who did more to save the earthquake-prone city of Los Angeles than anyone else. First by showing people like Cedillo that the Big One could be 1,000 times worse than they think — and now by showing them that it doesn’t have to be.