The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday called for a series of reports on just how ready the county is for a large-scale disaster, raising concerns about fires, floods, mudslides, chemical explosions and earthquakes.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas asked that emergency planners consider in particular the challenges of Hurricane Harvey and that public works employees do more outreach to Los Angeles County residents living in floodplains.
"It's hard to ignore that which is going on (in Houston) in terms of the pain, the suffering and the like," Ridley-Thomas said.
The motion also calls for a report back in 20 days on how county employees could help hurricane victims, through both donations and direct relief efforts.
"We are fortunate here in Los Angeles County to have some of the most well-trained responders and emergency managers in the United States," Office of Emergency Management Director Jeff Reeb told the board.
Reeb cited a mutual aid system that he called "the envy of the world," highlighting the mobilization of more than 1,000 firefighters to battle the 7,200-acre La Tuna fire, resources that could also be called out to manage the fallout of an earthquake or flood.
Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief Daryl Osby said a 15-member urban search and rescue team from his department saved several lives in Texas and another team was in Puerto Rico ready to help with Hurricane Irma.
"We have some of the best trained first responders in the world," Osby said.
But he cautioned that the county had never been tested in modern times as New Orleans was by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
"It's the first and only incident that I've gone to where it completely exceeded government," Osby said. "And we've never had that type of incident here in the county in all of my time."
Osby recommended sending a delegation to Houston, when the city is ready, to try and learn from that disaster.
Public Works Director Mark Pestrella praised the county's "world-class" flood control systems, which protect more than 10 million people and close to $1 trillion in property, but said, "There is no system that can be built to take on a ... 500-year event with 50 inches of rain that occurred in Houston."
Osby said residents also need to prepare for emergencies, telling the board that five homes lost in the La Tuna fire "were not defensible" because brush hadn't been cleared by homeowners.
Heeding the call to evacuate is also critical, Osby said, sadly recalling a man whose life was lost in last year's Sand fire because he refused to leave his home until it was too late.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl wondered aloud how the board would communicate in the event of widespread disaster and said more discussion between the supervisors was needed.
"How will we communicate with each other? How we will make decisions or know if those decisions are delegated to the CEO?" Kuehl asked. "I think we have really have not thought through fully what happens if the electrical grid fails."
Chief Executive Officer Sachi Hamai said a completely portable mobile communications system linked to satellite had been purchased for the board's use and that other emergency protocols were already in place.
Hamai said her office was preparing to lead a strategic discussion with the board, department heads and other key players, to make sure everyone was aware of those protocols and to allow board members to raise and play out all their concerns.
The board also ratified Monday's declaration of the La Tuna fire as a local emergency, a move that allows the county to access additional funding to restore damage done by the blaze.