Summary of the Disaster Preparedness Summit in Van Nuys

I did attend the Disaster Preparedness Summit hosted by the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council held April 30th. They did an outstanding job in coordinating the speakers. My only gripe, it should have been longer, but not their fault!

Congratulations to all involved. These events take much planning to get everyone’s schedules coordinated. The handouts (see below for downloadable versions!) were wonderful which included a very nicely designed bag containing a great combo-compass/whistle/flashlight, a lovely gift. A whistle you ask? Did you see the film Titanic where Kate Winslet was so exhausted from the cold she couldn’t speak, but had a whistle she blew that saved her life. If you are caught under a pile of debris your yelling/screaming (if you are able) may not be heard. A whistle is far more piercing and could very well be what alerts first responders to your position. Yup, I carry one in my purse, as well as a flashlight…always.

The speakers were all first-rate. First up was Captain Stacy Gerlich. I’ve known her for several years as she was the commander of Los Angeles CERT. She is now with FEMA’s Homeland Security division. If there is one person on this planet who knows emergency protocols, that would be Captain Gerlich. She gave a great talk about emergency planning. We are responsible for our own safety. When I took the CERT course they said, in the event of the BIG ONE, the paramedics, fire department, police department are not coming. Captain Gerlich reinforced that and said it could be very well up to 72 hours before we saw any of these first responders in our neighborhood. We have to be self-sufficient. She has a tent for her backyard as she is well aware, it just might not be possible to even get to a shelter. Overpasses, underpasses could all very well have collapsed and make the roads undrivable.

We also heard from the interim commander of CERT, Captain Christopher Cooper. Go to to learn more about this valuable program. Classes are ongoing (check on their website for when one will begin in your area.) The website also contains wonderful Preparedness Information, also Preparedness Information in Multiple Languages.

LAPD Commander of Operations Valley Bureau, Regina Scott spoke about how the LAPD would communicate in a catastrophic event. She is a great example of a caring LAPD. I felt her concern from every aspect of her hysterical but incredibly informative talk. Just FYI, there are two communications centers, one downtown and one in the valley. If one goes down, the other can take over in short order. She, like the others, emphasized that there is a great probability that you will NOT be able to drive to get out of the city due to the damage of the roads. You have to be prepared.

Cheryl Cashman, the Red Cross Representative had a great talk, and had very succinct points to make on what every citizen of our city should be doing to get ready for that BIG ONE. (I’m summarizing all points below from all talks). Cheryl brought up things I had not really thought of, such as keeping a crowbar in the bedroom in case during a quake your door shuts and the walls shift so you cannot open it. She also mentioned the great Red Cross Earthquake App. Cheryl introduced Kristen Sales who attended an event not unlike this one, who picked up on the “Map Your Neighborhood” system. She explained what the program is: Can you imagine your entire neighborhood being coordinated into sectors, all households knowing what to do in a disaster, and that certain people had certain tasks! Kristen and others in her neighborhood have done just that. Here is more information: Map Your Neighborhood. Here is information on an upcoming seminar in June – Map Your Neighborhood.

The last speaker was Charles Poepke, Field Operations Supervisor for the Gas Company. Did you know that after an earthquake you shouldn’t turn off your gas UNLESS you actually smell gas! If you turn it off, the gas company has to come out to your house to turn it back on. During the Northridge earthquake he said it took weeks to get everyone’s gas turned back on. You can’t do it yourself as you need to re-light your appliance(s). If you are not thoroughly familiar with that protocol, don’t even think of doing it yourself. The most interesting story of the night was the one he told of how the fire started in Northridge. It seems that the quake ruptured the gas line and the water main, combining the two, so now there was “flooding gas”. That did not start the fire, it was when a guy in a pick-up decided to try to drive in the flooded street. His engine stalled, and the fire started from a spark when he tried to restart his car. If there is standing water in the street and you can’t see the road, you shouldn’t be driving thru it.

So, here is a wrap up of some of the great points made by these wonderful speakers. Many thanks to them for spending their off-hours with us and kudos and thanks to the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council!:

  • MAKE A PLAN: DO NOT WAIT – DO IT NOW! Do you have out of town contacts that everyone knows you are going to call if there is a disaster. Do they know who they are? Do all members of the family have a meeting place? What if you are evacuated and all communication lines go down? What are your contingencies? Time to play the “what if” game. Do you know what your child’s school’s emergency plans are? If they are evacuated, where are they going? Time to find out.
  • GO BAGS: you need one for home, one for the office and one for the car – per person. Here is a great source on how to be prepared, with what is in a Go-Bag and other information you need. Remember, there is a good chance that the roads will be impassable and you will have to walk. You better have a comfy pair of walking shoes and socks in your car and in your office in case you have to hoof it home! Don’t forget about your pets, do you have a leash handy or crate if you have to evacuate in case of a wild-fire?
  • STAY INFORMED: You need a radio and either plenty of batteries or a hand-crank version. The two main stations are KFI AM 640 and KNX 1070 Newsradio – KNX – FM 94.7 (if they are still on-air).
  • FOOD & WATER: They tell you have enough water for 72 hours for each person in your family, about a gallon per person per day. But let me tell you, having heard stories I KNOW there is a very good chance that it will be far longer than 72 hours, try 2 weeks. Are you prepared to camp out in your backyard for 2 weeks in a self-sufficient manner? Do you have enough food and water for all your household members, including pets? What if you have out-of-town visitors that can’t leave, do you have enough supplies for them also? Also, a gallon of water is not very much, especially if you want to “wash-up”. They now have water in cans that have a 50 year shelf life. (Those in plastic have a limited shelf-life)
  • PREPARE YOUR HOUSE: Do you have your large pieces of furniture secured to the studs of the walls so they won’t tip over on you or block your egress? Have you secured your hot water heater to the wall (the studs IN the wall?) Your hot water heater can provide a good source of drinking water. Have you used museum putty to secure your valuable heirloom tchotkes to the table tops?
  • SHELTERS: They can’t take pets, so part of that planning is for you to decide what you are going to do with your dog and/or cat and any of your other critters. The shelters will open as soon as they are inspected and then you should hear announcements as to their locations on the radio.
  • ALERT LA: Los Angeles County has implemented an emergency mass notification system, Alert LA County, to contact County residents and businesses via recorded phone messages, text messages or e-mail messages in case of emergencies or critical situations and provide information regarding necessary actions, such as evacuations. Register your cell phone number, Voice over IP phone number and e-mail address!

Preparedness Handouts – Downloads

Emergency Survival Guide – County of Los Angeles This is Excellent!
PrepareSoCal – Emergency Preparedness Guide – in several languages.
SNAP – Specific Needs Awareness Planning guide
Home Energy and Safety Guide by Southern California Gas Company
SOS Catalog The Van Nuys City Council said they couldn’t, of course, endorse them, but I am! I think they are a fantastic resource right here in the valley for ALL of your disaster preparations. Look for their huge once-a-year sale. They even have occasional classes to help you prepare. Please check out their website.

For more resources, please check out our own page: EMERGENCY RESOURCES.

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