It’s Paul Weinberg’s job to hope for the best and plan for the worst.
As the emergency services administrator for the City of Santa Monica, he is constantly monitoring potential threats and keeping tabs on terrorist attacks around the world.
So when a man in drove a cargo truck into a large crowd a few weeks ago in Nice, France, killing more than 80 people and injuring hundreds more, he and other local officials were forced to contemplate yet another kind of disastrous tragedy.
“When something has happened across the country or across the world, we look at that scenario — that’s our responsibility,” he said. “We have to take advantage of these unfortunate incidents to see what we can maybe do differently, what went right, what went wrong. In the best case, at least we’ve learned from some of them.”
While emergency preparedness is always a focus for Weinberg and his colleagues in the city Office of Emergency Management, it has returned as a topic of national discussion following a series of violent mass attacks in the U.S. and around the globe in recent months.
But whereas bombings and shooting rampages have seemingly become expected means of violence, the incident in Nice involved a less common weapon of destruction.
“Unfortunately, we have to learn from it and figure out what might have prevented some of the damage,” Weinberg said.
Local emergency officials, who are tasked with developing and implementing preparedness plans for the entire city in the event of natural and manmade disasters, work with numerous agencies and community groups throughout the year.
They work with the Santa Monica police and fire departments, which handle first response, and also meet with business leaders, school officials and security experts to assess risks and chart out response strategies.
“We’re sharing information constantly,” Weinberg said.
Police and fire officials were not immediately available for comment.
Officials are keenly aware of Santa Monica landmarks that could be viewed as potential targets, including Santa Monica Pier, Third Street Promenade and the McClure Tunnel between the Interstate 10 freeway and Pacific Coast Highway.
Authorities have held drills at the pier and Santa Monica Place mall as well as at Santa Monica College and Santa Monica-Malibu school district sites, working with their respective leaders to address issues and devise plans, Weinberg said. Officials prepare for many different kinds of incidents so they can adapt quickly based on location, time of day and other factors.
“Everything is based on partnerships in our community,” Weinberg said.
Following the Boston Marathon bombings in April 2013, local authorities trained specifically for similar incidents because of Santa Monica’s position as the terminus of the Los Angeles Marathon, Weinberg said.
Santa Monica emergency experts have also tried to make improvements in action and communication tactics since the June 2013 shooting rampage at SMC, he said.
Officials noted the work that’s been done since the 2003 farmers market crash, which was not considered a terrorist attack but which required intensive emergency response.
Weinberg said people who live or work in Santa Monica can get more involved in emergency preparedness through the city’s Community Emergency Response Team, which guides volunteers through a free, federally recognized training course. The training includes a segment on terrorism awareness.
“The key is, ‘If you see something, say something,’” Weinberg said. “The City will never be upset at someone calling 911 and saying, ‘This seems odd’ or ‘This doesn’t look right.’” It’s not an inconvenience by any means.”
Civic leaders have also encouraged locals to establish emergency plans with loved ones and sign up for the City’s emergency communications system at SMalerts.net.