Seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones says future earthquakes in California are inescapable, but safety officials say what can be controlled is how Angelenos and first responders communicate in the aftermath of the Big One. About 50,000 signs with the word “OK” on one side and “HELP” on the other were distributed across the San Fernando Valley on Monday in an effort to get aid where it’s needed in case of an emergency. Officials say the latest method could save time and lives. Stephanie Elam reports from Chatsworth for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Oct. 15, 2012.
The so-called Big One, a massive earthquake looming in California's future, is not a manner of “if,” but “when,” experts say. On Monday, a new tool to help save time and possibly lives was introduced to thousands of residents in the San Fernando Valley.
Special Section: Earthquake Info, Maps, Resources
“It's an absolute certainty for Los Angeles that we are going to be facing big earthquakes in our future,” said Lucy Jones, seismologist with the US Geological Survey.
In the aftermath of a major quake, first responders will work to get to residents in need of help. In those crucial first moments, early information and clear communication could be life-saving.
“We are launching OK/HELP, a free community preparedness tool,” said LA Councilman Mitch Englander, 12th District. “We will start with 50,000 distributed to local homes in the San Fernando Valley.”
The plan is to get a sign with “OK” emblazoned on one side, and “HELP” scrawled on the other side to every household in Los Angeles. After a massive earthquake, phone lines will likely be down. By putting up one of those two signs, residents will be able to communicate.
“Once you place that HELP in the window, then we’ll have our volunteers coming though,” said LAFD Chief Brian Cummings. “They’re going to sweep the neighborhoods.”
The signs will also help the fire department and first responders, including certified emergency response teams, decide how to allocate limited resources.
“We are a very thin line covering the city – 951 people covering the city of 470 square miles and 4 million residents,” said Cummings. “They're estimating 1,600 fires within the first hour after the earthquake. Over 53,000 people in the region will need transport to emergency medical facilities.”
In this scenario, the aftershocks are just as worrisome as the initial temblor.
“We could literally have Northridge as an aftershock to our big earthquake,” Jones said, referring to the massive 1994 quake that shook the San Fernando Valley city. “We think that 80 seconds into the earthquake we could bring down the grid for western North America.”
So the need for Southern California to prepare as families and communities is critical.
“To be Red Cross ready takes three simple steps: get a kit for you and your pets, make a plan and be informed,” said Terri Corigliano, chief communications officer for Red Cross LA Region.
It could be the difference between life and death.