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Getting Jolted Out of Our Complacency : 'Are you prepared for the next earthquake?' The answer is, not really. In any case, another quake- preparedness story seemed like a dull topic--until Monday.

SCOTT HARRIS

June 27, 1995|SCOTT HARRIS

I was sitting with a lady friend on the patio of a little bistro in the South of France, sipping a fine Chardonnay.

Dinner was exquisite. We were deciding on dessert when, oddly, the table began to shake.

Suddenly, I was home again, in bed and awake, worrying that the jolts would get stronger and stronger, wondering whether I should dash under the doorway. My heart was pounding. But I stayed put, riding out this latest reminder of nature's whims. Finally, the tremors stopped.

My clock glowed 1:44. My first guess turned out to be on the mark--that it was another Northridge aftershock, a strong one, but not strong enough to do much more than frazzle nerves. But I also worried that it might be the distant tremors of a monster that leveled Santa Barbara. Or San Francisco. And I feared that it might be a foreshock--that something bigger would be coming soon.

All of which explains my reconsideration of a news release that I had every intention of ignoring when it came in over the fax last week. "Are you prepared for the next earthquake?" it asked. The answer is, not really. In any case, another quake-preparedness story seemed like a dull topic--until early Monday.

Such timing. Michael J. Straw, a Woodland Hills resident who volunteers as a community policing representative for local Neighborhood Watch programs, is hopeful that the hefty 4.9 aftershock will prompt a large crowd at the quake-preparedness seminar tonight at the Warner Woodlands II condo complex. The discussion, open to the public, starts at 7:30 and will feature representatives of the Department of Water and Power and the city Fire Department. If the crowd can't fit in the complex's pool area, the session will be moved to a nearby park.

When the Northridge earthquake hit, Straw says, "I was the only person with a flashlight, the only person with a tool to turn off the gas." He organized the event because he suspects that Los Angeles still hasn't learned its quake lessons.

Although the reminders of Jan. 17, 1994, are everywhere--debris piled in the gutter, fenced-off, boarded-up apartment buildings--there also seems to be a feeling that it probably won't happen again any time soon. Seventeen months later, we've taken big steps toward normalcy--and with it, perhaps, complacency.

Monday morning's aftershock inspired guilt in a friend. The Northridge quake did little harm in her Westside home, but it inspired her to be better prepared. The mother of two small children, she had added a water purification kit and more camping gear to her cache of emergency supplies. She had bolted a china cabinet to the wall. Yet, as she checked on her children Monday morning, she realized that other pieces of potentially dangerous furniture remained unsecured.

Her kids slept through it, but it took my friend a while to calm her nerves. "My heart was beating so hard," she told me. "I felt like one big pulse."

This was a common feeling, one suspects. Another friend, one who lives in Woodland Hills, said that 30 minutes after the earth stopped shaking, she was still trembling. Her teen-age daughter just slept through it.

Given his Neighborhood Watch duties, Straw was out patrolling his condo complex early Monday. Simi Valley resident Andrew Virzi, who will represent the DWP at tonight's session, went through his quake drill. He checked the house--everything seemed OK--but moved the cars out of the garage "just in case." He and his wife gathered their kids and camped out together in the living room for the rest of the night.

As for myself, it took a few minutes for the heartbeat to return to normal. Then I drifted back to sleep. But I never got to order dessert.

*

Department of Corrections, Omissions, Etc.: It's sad but true. Factual errors have been known to appear in this column. Readers, especially members of my personal gun lobby, often contend that my column is rife with errors of opinion and analysis. I prefer to think otherwise.

But let the record show that this time I got Michael J. Straw's name right. In a previous column about a Neighborhood Watch meeting, I had given him the name of Stark.

Also, a column describing Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic has prompted a number of readers to ask about how to volunteer for the agency. Anyone who feels so inclined may call the agency's new West Hills office at (818) 226-6055 or write to 6700 Fallbrook Ave., Suite 126, West Hills 91307-3530.

Finally, I have an answer for Relentless Ron Yorke of Reseda, one of those readers who loyally question my opinions and analysis. Ron has graciously offered to substitute for me any time I have a day off or I'm away on vacation.

I don't mean to be rude, but the French, I'm told, would put it this way:

\o7 Non merci.\f7

Or perhaps:

\o7 Sacre bleu!

Scott Harris' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Readers may write to Harris at the Times Valley Edition, 20000 Prairie St., Chatsworth, Calif. 91311. Please include a phone number. Address TimesLink or Prodigy e-mail to \f7 YQTU59A (\o7 via the Internet: \f7 YQTU59A@prodigy.com).

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