Infrastructure & Environment

L.A. to Hire Chief Resilience Officer

July 1, 2014

By Rosanna Xia

When Los Angeles officials begin an ambitious effort to comb the city and check which buildings might be at risk in a major earthquake, they will also examine how efficiently the structures use water and electricity, Mayor Eric Garcetti said Monday.

The comment came as Garcetti pledged to appoint a "chief resilience officer" who would search for ways to improve the city's ability to recover from man-made or natural disasters such as earthquakes. At a conference on what it takes to make a city bounce back from disaster, the Rockefeller Foundation also committed to paying the first two years of salary for whoever Los Angeles hires for the job.

"When disaster strikes, we must be prepared now to keep our water, communications and other key infrastructure operational," said Garcetti, who emphasized that preparing for earthquakes goes hand in hand with preparing for long-term problems such as drought for a city like Los Angeles. "Why should we be going and looking at buildings on their seismic safety if we don't also look at the energy that they're consuming and the water that they consume?"

Last fall, The Times reported that by the most conservative estimate, as many as 50 of the more than 1,000 concrete buildings in the city built before 1976 would collapse in a major earthquake, exposing thousands to injury or death. In January, Garcetti appointed Lucy Jones, a prominent U.S. Geological Survey seismologist, to spend a year talking with community leaders, scientists, building owners and tenants and coming up with recommendations on how to tackle retrofitting and preserving the city's water and telecommunications systems during a major quake.

Once Jones' work is done, the resilience officer would take it from there.

L.A. was chosen as one of 100 cities that will get money and other help from the Rockefeller Foundation to develop ways to minimize damage and recover economically from disasters. Out of 372 cities around the world that have applied to become one of the Foundation's 100 Resilient Cities, 32 have been selected so far.

The program has already kicked off in New Orleans, Berkeley and San Francisco, which recently expanded the duties of its earthquake czar to include chief of resilience.

Michael Berkowitz, president of the Rockefeller Foundation's 100 Resilient Cities initiative, said L.A. has many complex challenges, and he was "really impressed by the innovative and visionary leadership that the mayor was providing on these issues."

On Monday, Garcetti emphasized that though earthquakes top the list of risks in L.A., keeping the city functional in the long run goes beyond getting ready for the Big One. Problems such as an unprotected water system can pose huge risks if a gas line ruptures and fires break out after the shaking of an earthquake, he said.

Strengthening the city's local water supply is also a priority, Garcetti said, and his goal is to cut the city's use of imported water in half by 2025.

Imagine the city without water for six months, Garcetti said. "Those who are prepared to survive might stay. Those who can't will leave and maybe never come back. So even though the city will still be with us, it may be that we no longer have the population that we do. New Orleans is still struggling to rebuild its pre-Katrina population."

The city has already taken steps in what is expected to be several seismic safety measures at City Hall. Garcetti said this year that he supports some type of mandatory retrofitting of older buildings at risk in a major earthquake. He also said he wants buildings across Los Angeles to be graded for their seismic safety.

Earlier this month, Garcetti signed off on the city's most aggressive action on earthquake safety in nearly three decades, instructing the building department to hire three people to create a list of the thousands of vulnerable wooden apartment buildings in the city. Other elected officials in Los Angeles have sought state backing for tax breaks for owners who retrofit their buildings or funding for cities to implement local earthquake safety programs.

(c)2014 the Los Angeles Times

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