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About Two Weeks Later . . . : Times Poll on Northridge quake contains silver linings, disturbing findings

January 30, 1994

What a two weeks it has been.

And what an extraordinary next few months it no doubt will be.

Spare us the excitement, right? For--once again--the millions who live here are being severely tested, this time by the biggest earthquake in our modern history.

Sure, we'll pass the test. We're resilient, determined, committed, all of that. Look at the amazing results of the Los Angeles Times Poll taken last weekend. It revealed that only 3% of poll respondents--and only 4% in the most heavily damaged areas--say they will pick up and get out.

So we're staying, we're digging in, we're fighting back.

That we know.

What we don't know is whether we'll be better or worse for all the trauma.

No less than 54% of respondents said they were suffering psychologically as a result of the 6.6-point quake that occurred early Jan. 17. Indeed, one in four said the Northridge earthquake was one of the worst experiences of their lives. Sounds reasonable to us.

What did seem a lot less sensible was that 83% of those commuting alone said they would continue to do so. It takes some kind of zany optimist to find a silver lining in an earthquake, but our hope has been that the commuting nightmare that we have all awakened to would force many of us into doing what we should have been doing all along: Start a car pool, take a bus, ride a train.

Our guess is that a few more weeks of the post-quake commuting ordeal will chip away at that 83% figure. We'll see.

And no one really knows how much children will be affected by the trauma. Endless psychologists--pop and otherwise--will no doubt speculate. But only the attentive parent will be able to tell. It did seem to us that local school officials moved as quickly as humanely possible to get the schools up to speed. That was a relief to the kids, not to mention their parents.

Another silver lining--can you can hear us whistling?--is that the experience of this powerful quake will motivate us all to take the whole business of earthquake preparedness a lot more seriously. Disturbingly, 53% of poll respondents did not consider themselves well-prepared for a quake. We've got to change.

So, as you go to bed tonight, ask yourself this question: Do you know where your flashlights are?

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