The 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina arrives Aug. 29, and it’s hard to believe that it has been 10 years since Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast.

When the hurricane made landfall it broke the city of New Orleans’ levees and wrecked the Gulf Coast from Louisiana to Florida, killing 1,833 people and causing more than $100 billion in damage. More than a million people in the Gulf region were displaced by the storm, according to FEMA. At their peak, hurricane relief shelters housed 273,000 people. Later, approximately 114,000 households were housed in FEMA trailers. The population of New Orleans fell from 484,674 in April 2000 to 230,172 in July 2006, a decrease of more than 50 percent.

While this event took place thousands of miles from Santa Monica, its impact was felt locally and has resulted in positive changes to the way in which the City of Santa Monica plans and prepares for emergencies. Experts have warned that a catastrophic earthquake could impact Southern California at any time and that we need to be ready. Taking to heart the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, Santa Monica has improved its resiliency and is helping the community be better to respond to, recover from and mitigate against future disasters.

Community collaboration

Many may not know that less than one week following the flooding in the Gulf Coast, more than 250 families from the affected areas arrived on Santa Monica’s doorstep. Many of them had only the shirts on their backs and the few belongings they were able to carry. Most had no place to stay, no food to eat, nowhere to receive medical treatment and very little hope of recovery or returning home.

For a period of time, it appeared that Santa Monica High School was going to be used as a temporary emergency shelter for these evacuees. This would have delayed the start of the school year for local students and placed a tremendous strain on the City and partner agencies to provide the necessary care for those affected.

Fortunately, those tasked with emergency management and preparedness in Santa Monica rose to the occasion and were able to develop a plan to care for our new visitors. City of Santa Monica staff as well as partners from the Santa Monica chapter of the American Red Cross, Meals on Wheels West, WISE & Healthy Aging, the Salvation Army, Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, Westside Food Bank and UCLA Santa Monica and St. John’s hospitals worked for months to meet the needs of the evacuees while limiting the impact on our local community. This group, Santa Monica Organizations Active in Disasters (SMOAID), was able to find permanent housing for the refugees who opted to stay in Santa Monica.

Once the evacuees were given the assistance they needed, it was decided that the organization was so successful in the coordination of that it should continue to meet regularly to strengthen and improve emergency preparedness, communications, response and recovery efforts for Santa Monica. Additionally, SMOAID brings together members of the community including service providers, response agencies, businesses, nonprofits, neighborhood organizations, schools and others.

SMOAID has worked to make Santa Monica one of the most disaster-resilient communities in the Los Angeles region. SMOAID has hosted community events including emergency preparedness for businesses, nonprofits and pet owners as well as emergency supply pop-up shops and services.

Emergency readiness

In 2011, the City of Santa Monica created an entire division devoted to disaster management and preparedness. The Office of Emergency Management (OEM) is housed in the City Manager’s Office. Since its inception, OEM has made great strides in strengthening Santa Monica’s disaster preparedness and response capabilities. Some of the accomplishments of the Santa Monica OEM include:

Creating a local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program, which has trained more than 300 people who either live or work in Santa Monica.

Conducting business continuity trainings for hundreds of businesses in partnership with the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce and RAND Corp.

Procuring disaster supply caches to assist in disaster response and emergency shelter activities.

Training City departments in emergency operations center management for incidents and emergencies.

Developing partnerships with local businesses to support each other in the event of emergencies.

Working with neighborhood organizations and residents to prepare the Santa Monica community to become disaster resilient.

Future events

Moving forward, the Santa Monica Office of Emergency Management continues to promote preparedness activities.

On Aug. 22, Santa Monica CERT Class #10 graduated and will join the 280-plus CERT team members who work to keep the community safe and prepared.

This fall, the City will launch its “I’ve Got 7” Emergency Preparedness campaign in partnership with the Santa Monica- Malibu Unified School District. This campaign encourages everyone in Santa Monica to pledge to be prepared for emergencies and have a disaster kit which includes up to seven days of emergency supplies.

On Oct. 13, OEM will sponsor a disaster preparedness workshop for local businesses in partnership with the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce.

On Oct. 15, the City of Santa Monica will participate in the Great California Shakeout, the annual earthquake response drill. OEM encourages everyone to join the millions of Californians who will drop, cover, and hold on as part of the exercise.

On Oct. 20, the Santa Monica CERT team will join Meals on Wheels West to deliver emergency supplies to more than 150 Meals on Wheels clients in Santa Monica.

Taking action

The Santa Monica Office of Emergency Management offers training and planning assistance to those who live, work and play in our great city. We encourage everyone to follow three simple steps to be prepared for emergencies:

1) Have a disaster kit with up to seven days of emergency supplies.

2) Have a family or business emergency plan in order to get in touch with people following a major disaster.

3) Be informed by signing up for the SM Alerts system. SM Alerts is the City of Santa Monica’s emergency notification system, which is used to inform the public about incidents and emergencies. To sign up for SM Alerts, visit SMalerts.net.

For additional information about Santa Monica’s emergency preparedness efforts and general disaster preparedness information for residents, businesses, children, pets and others, visit OEM’s homepage at smgov.net/oem.

Paul Weinberg is the Emergency Services Administrator for the Santa Monica Office of Emergency Management. The Office of Emergency Management exists to protect the community of Santa Monica from the loss of life and property in the event of a natural or man-made disaster. The Office of Emergency Management provides educational material, trainings, speakers, planning guidance and other resources to make Santa Monica the most disaster-resilient community in Southern California.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *