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SANTA MONICA : Review Reveals Cracks in Quake Response

January 30, 1994|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Despite a public veneer of mastery, all was not well in the early stages of Santa Monica's response to the Jan. 17 earthquake.

For starters, officials said the city's 911 system crashed for about three hours after the quake. Jory Wolf, city information systems' manager, said the last 911 call was logged 20 minutes after the 4:31 a.m. quake. The next one came in at 7:41 a.m. Wolf said he is still analyzing what went wrong, although it appears to be a combination of lost power and mismatched auxiliary generators.

The morning of the quake, the city's command post moved about as often as the ground. It was at a specially equipped trailer, a fire station and, finally, at its home in the basement of the old police building, after it was deemed safe.

Despite the glitches, "The staff sprang into action and acted heroically," Councilman Paul Rosenstein said.

Indeed, Acting City Atty. Joseph Lawrence rushed to City Hall at 5:15 a.m. A handwritten declaration of emergency was signed by one official at 6:20 a.m. and amended by City Manager John Jalili when he arrived an hour later.

Despite a quick response, officials concede it took a while to recognize the scope of the disaster. As the week progressed, anxiety built up when a local paper printed a list of unsafe buildings. Police called it "a looting map." Edgy politicians demanded National Guard troops. When Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block, who is regional disaster czar, did not respond fast enough, Mayor Judy Abdo tried an end run by calling a county supervisor.

Though that backfired, Block did dispatch some deputies to town. That did not mollify Councilman Kelly Olsen, who complained he had seen quake-emptied apartment buildings with no security on his middle-of-the-night rounds. And he said he had the videotape to prove it.

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