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Fire Drill to Evacuate High-Rises

Civic Center sites and 20,000 people will be involved in the exercise.

September 09, 2004|Eric Malnic | Times Staff Writer

A massive fire drill involving the simultaneous evacuation of up to 20,000 people from City Hall, police headquarters, the federal building on Los Angeles Street, the criminal courts building and several other Civic Center structures will occur this morning, officials said Wednesday.

The unprecedented exercise is expected to snarl late-morning commuter traffic and delay city business and court proceedings for hours. Several streets probably will be closed and 20 fire engines will be deployed, fire officials said.

"There clearly could be some disruptions," said Alan Parachini, a spokesman for Los Angeles County Superior Court. "But there would be disruptions in the event of a real disaster."

The drill is scheduled to start about 9:30 a.m. and last up to an hour and a half. It was announced by Mayor James K. Hahn's office as he and Fire Chief William Bamattre proposed changes to the city fire code that would require a full-building fire drill evacuation every three years of all 22 commercial structures in the city that are 35 stories or taller.

The current code requires such buildings to hold drills on individual floors once a year, but there is no requirement to evacuate all floors simultaneously.

"The events of Sept. 11, 2001, clearly illustrated the need for high-rise buildings to be proficient if a total and sudden building evacuation becomes necessary," Bamattre said. Requiring "a full-scale, realistic, total building evacuation every three years," he said, will help the city achieve "a proactive and efficient state of preparedness."

Any code changes would require City Council approval.

Today's drill also will include City Hall East, City Hall South, and the Metropolitan Dispatch Communications Center.

Prisoners and jailers will remain at Parker Center, but most personnel will leave, said Sgt. Catherine Plows, an LAPD spokeswoman.

Fire Capt. Rex Vilaubi said 15,000 to 20,000 people would be escorted from the Civic Center buildings and sent on foot to designated "safe-refuge" areas, some as far away as Olvera Street, across the "slot" containing the Santa Ana Freeway.

"There might be some inconvenience to drivers," said Shannon Murphy, a spokesperson for the mayor. "But this is a coordinated effort, and city departments are prepared for this."

"If it's a mess, the question is, 'Why did we wait for three years?' " said Councilman Jack Weiss. "We should have had smaller drills along the way."

Weiss said that in May 2002, he and City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo proposed code changes that called for evacuation drills twice a year involving at least five floors at a time.

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