CITY HALL — As communities in Missouri, Alabama and abroad are torn apart by natural and manmade disasters of untold proportion, Santa Monicans have to ask themselves a serious question: Are we ready?

If you believe the movies, Santa Monica seems likely to be destroyed by alien attack, which no one can prepare for, but City Hall hopes to create a new Office of Emergency Management which looks a little closer to Earth.

The office, included in the 2011-13 budgets being considered now by the City Council, would be funded at $810,361 for the first year and $649,954 for the second, and fall under the purview of the City Manager’s office.

It would be staffed by three full-time employees, an Emergency Services Manager brought in from the police department, an Emergency Services Coordinator from the fire department and a new administrative assistant.

City Manager Rod Gould tapped Lt. Ken Semko, a 20-year veteran of the police department, for the management position, saying that he had shown “dramatic leadership” in the area of disaster-readiness.

It’s not a topic that people are comfortable thinking about, Semko said.

“Recent events around the world and over the last week in the South and in Missouri and Alabama are really stark reminders that something can happen on any given day, and we don’t want our community to be unprepared,” he said.

Although scientists have no credible way of predicting earthquakes, a study conducted by UC Irvine and Arizona State University seismologists found that the San Andreas fault, located 100 miles north of Los Angeles, is long overdue for a quake.

Gould noted that he’s experienced floods, fires, earthquakes and riots in the four other cities he’s worked in.

“If you’re not prepared, it’s a matter of risking lives and property,” he said.

There are four main categories or stages when it comes to responding to a disaster, Semko said — mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.

“Our public safety in the city is tremendous,” he said. “Where we need to improve is our overall preparedness, both as a city and community as a whole.”

According to a recent community survey, only 19 percent of the 407 residents surveyed had seen or heard anything about City Hall’s previous effort, the Disaster Assistance and Response Training, or DART.

That program teaches people how to make themselves and family members safe while in their homes or apartments, Semko said.

Even fewer had heard about I’ve Got 7, a program focused on making sure that families have seven days worth of supplies on hand in case of disaster.

It’s hard to stress the importance of having supplies on hand, Semko said.

“We may not have immediate help, and there may not be food and water readily available,” Semko said. “They have to be prepared to take care of themselves for the first couple of days after a major disaster.”

Should it be approved by the City Council at its June 21 meeting, the office would focus on public service announcements and outreach by going out to neighborhood groups, speaking to the news media and holding community meetings.

Beyond getting more people involved in the DART and I’ve Got 7 programs, the office envisions a 28-hour course called Citizen Emergency Response Team, or CERT, which would train civilians to respond as a unit to disasters in specific neighborhoods.

That program could launch as soon as early 2012.

For more information on the DART and I’ve Got 7 programs, and the next training dates, visit

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