If there is no other legacy to the pain and suffering in Mexico City, I hope it will be a legacy to us to take earthquake preparedness seriously and do something. But people really don't want to talk about earthquake safety. It's really been a black sheep issue.
--Ferne Halgren, executive director of Quake Safe, an earthquake education organization in West Los Angeles.
Three weeks before Mexico City's 8.1 earthquake struck on Sept. 19, Ferne Halgren returned from Japan, determined to keep talking about earthquake preparedness--to anyone who would listen.
"Earthquake preparedness is a hard sell here, but in Japan they're serious about it," said Halgren, who has been trying to do something about getting Angelenos ready for the big quake since the Sylmar temblor 14 years ago.
During the Sylmar earthquake, Halgren fainted.
Shaking and Falling
"I felt I wouldn't have reacted that way if I had been better prepared," she said, explaining that she lived in the Hollywood Hills then and looked out her window to see houses shaking and transformers falling down the hill. "I've been seriously preparing ever since."
Not only did Ferne Halgren read and gather every bit of earthquake material and books she could find, she attended conferences and seminars, talked with geologists and seismic engineers and local and state officials about earthquake safety.
She and her lawyer husband, Jack Halgren, daughter, Jessica, 16, and son, Justin, 12, have secured possessions, shelves, cabinets and the water heater in their home in West Los Angeles, eliminated other earthquake hazards inside and out, and put together an earthquake closet, complete with food, water, blankets, clothing and sturdy shoes, portable lights and radios, extra pairs of eyeglasses, medications, first aid kit and more. The Halgrens just finished having their house bolted to its foundation.
In the years that have passed since the Sylmar quake, Ferne Halgren has become a specialist on the subject of earthquake safety and now runs the nonprofit Quake Safe corporation, dedicated to educating the public about earthquake preparedness.
Halgren is a member of the state Seismic Safety Commission education committee, of the Governor's Task Force for Earthquake Preparedness and of the Los Angeles City/County Earthquake Advisory Committee. She is also currently working with members of the Junior League of Los Angeles in establishing an earthquake safety program in neighborhoods, similar to Neighborhood Watch.
But her latest effort, under the auspices of Quake Safe, is to start a resource center and library for School Earthquake Preparedness.
"In Japan, they have made earthquake safety a national priority," said Halgren, who went to Japan on a 10-day tour with several Los Angeles city and county government officials, but paid her own way for the trip.
"Japan is on the same seismic cycle we are. They had the equivalent of an 8.3 in 1854 and they're gearing up for the next one.
"The Japanese have all kinds of sophisticated pamphlets, booklets for earthquake preparedness," Halgren said during an interview in her Quake Safe office on Pico Boulevard and Overland Avenue.
She picked up several instructional earthquake safety booklets that she had brought back from Japan. Although they were written in Japanese, the accompanying drawings would be understandable to anyone.
One booklet showed how to make slings and/or covers for knee bandages from ordinary panty hose. Another showed pictures of items to buy to equip a house with an earthquake kit. A third featured photos of fire stations stocked with supplies for a disaster, food, blankets, flashlights, etc. "Every fire station is stocked like that," Halgren said.
"Schoolchildren in the communities expected to be hardest hit all have hard hats that they wear to and from school (so they always have them available)," she continued. "Can you see the kids here doing that?"
Japanese officials, Halgren said, have committed the government to earthquake safety and have financed extensive programs throughout the country.
"Entire communities train throughout the year for disaster preparedness," Halgren said. "We watched an earthquake drill . . . where 5,000 people participated. They all had specific duties, wore uniforms and hard hats. It was really impressive. They do these drills regularly. Everybody is a part of it. You have a whole community actively involved and taking part in the drill."
By Japanese standards, Halgren said, Californians are light-years behind in earthquake preparedness. "And people here just don't want to talk about it. Earthquakes aren't trendy. But I pray that the devastation in Mexico will wake up people, that Mexico City will be the gun that makes us duck.
"Usually when you talk with people (about earthquake preparedness), you get two reactions," Halgren added. "They say, 'We've been through this before, so what's the point?' or 'We're going to fall into the sea anyway, so why worry?' There's so much denial."