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Looking ahead on 18th anniversary of Northridge earthquake

January 17, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Eighteen years ago on this day, the powerful Northridge earthquake changed lives.

The 6.7-magnitude quake struck at 4:31 a.m. By the time the ground stopped shaking, 57 people had lost their lives, major freeways were shut down and thousands were left homeless.

"Our community was shaken to the core: 61,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed, 16,000 homes and apartments were rendered uninhabitable, 45,000 residential structures were damaged," said Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys).

For many, the memory of the deadly quake is still fresh.

"We put some cots out in the backyard and slept there and all the neighbors did the same thing," said Chatsworth resident Claire Weinstein. "They were sleeping in their driveways because we had one aftershock after another."

For others, it's not fresh enough to prepare for the "Big One," which could happen any day now.

"It's not a question of if, it's a question of when," said Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield (D-San Fernando Valley). "We all need to be prepared and having a disaster preparedness kit is the least that you can do to make sure that you and your family have some measure or preparedness."

Officials says it's important for families to have a gathering space in the event of a disaster, but also a space for the community to assemble so everyone can come together and get medical attention and information. It's the reason why there are mobile command centers that serve as triage centers, as well as information outlets.

When the 1994 quake struck, many Encino residents found themselves at a community park. Now it's a designated meeting area for the next disaster.

Blumenfield organized a task force that lays out plans for check-in areas, medical facilities, message relayers and an effort to train as many people as possible to be certified by the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Nathan Wolfstein, a professional volunteer manager and community preparedness charity advisor, says the course is free and takes about 17 hours to complete.

"It is a lot different than emergency preparedness," he said, "it's disaster preparedness, and the difference is in an emergency, we all know we call 911 and soembody comes. In a disaster, first of all, we won't be able to make the call. Secondly, nobody is coming. "

That's a lesson that came too late for many, but one that is still relevant.