Los Angeles

LA Officials Duck, Cover and Hold as City Weighs Safety Measures

The Criminal Courts Building in downtown Los Angeles as part of a drill to prepare for a massive earthquake

City officials drilled for an earthquake Thursday, a way to promote readiness as the 1994 Northridge earthquake recedes from memory, with more safety measures under consideration.

The Criminal Courts Building in LA's Civic Center was evacuated as part of the drill, while at City Hall, USGS seismologist Lucy Jones led office workers in a duck-cover-and-hold drill.

It was all part of the California Shakeout day of earthquake readiness preparation.

The LA region has seen small quakes recently, Jones said, but it will eventually be put to the test in a way that hasn't happened since the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

"Over and over again (we) handle small situations and then think 'we got it,' and when a big one comes along we are surprised at what we don't know," said Jones, who is developing an earthquake resiliency strategy for LA.

One aspect of readying the city may involve retrofitting vulnerable buildings, she said.

The other part of the drill was to correct instincts.

Jones said most people want to run outside in an earthquake, which is dangerous.

"As much as we preach preparedness to the general public, we preach it amongst ourselves," LAPD Fire Capt. Jamie Moore said.

The process of identifying buildings that may come down in a large quake is now underway, ordered by the City Council in June.

Los Angeles long ago led the nation in requiring the retrofitting of unreinforced brick buildings. But other buildings, constructed with less-stringent seismic codes, remain.

One kind of building that didn't perform well in the Northridge and Loma Prieta earthquakes are known as "soft first-story" structures -- often apartment buildings of four or five stories on top of parking garages.

How to make them safe is the next question facing the city.

"What its going to cost, what are the consequences, what are the benefits and downsides on different policies -- in the end, the decision on how they move forward with it is going to rest with the mayor," Jones said.

A decision by LA Mayor Eric Garcetti's office on retrofitting Los Angeles is due in the next two months, Jones said.

Raymond Chan, who heads the city's Building and Safety Department, will recommend to Garcetti that apartment building owners be required to retrofit soft first-story and wood-framed structures, which are also vulnerable in earthquakes, according to the LA Times.

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