Shake, shake, shake – shake your ‘Self’ and Get Prepared?

By Chief Sam DiGiovanna

First thought - would likely have you thinking of this song But actually it is something completely different. Nonetheless it is a good song that can put you in a good mood, so go ahead and shake it!

However, with the Covid – 19 virus, political unrest and other world events, it is easy to forget another threat that is looming under us and can strike at any time without warning.

Twenty seven years ago January 17th was when the Northridge earthquake struck, killing 57 people and causing $44 billion in damage. Those of us who lived through it will never forget the chaos and destruction. Though we have had others, this was the last “significant” quake that has caused such damage and death. We are way overdue for a quake, and we cannot let our guard down and be unprepared.

And yet, experts consider Northridge a moderate earthquake — at 6.7-magnitude, it fell below what seismologists warn could be coming. In late 2017, seismologists stressed that Southern California is overdue for a 7.8-magnitude quake along the 800-mile San Andreas Fault. While such an event would hit the Los Angeles area the hardest, experts say it would be felt throughout the state, causing up to $300 billion in damages. The effects would likely spread nationwide, as business and travel are affected.

Are you prepared?

OK, that's a bit flippant; no one can truly be prepared for what the Big One could bring. But we can take steps to better position ourselves. And as first responders, we have an obligation to do so.

Accept that natural disasters are a constant threat.

If there's one constant when it comes to natural disasters, it's that we can't control them. Even if you live in the northernmost reaches of California, an earthquake could hit anytime ... and if not an earthquake, what about flooding or fires? No matter where we live, we face the constant possibility of natural disasters. In fact, the prevalence and intensity of weather-related events is likely to increase due to climate change. Since there's much we can't predict or prevent, we must be prepared.

Build and maintain emergency kits for yourself and your family.

I know, you're rolling your eyes; you hear this all the time. But have you done it? Emergency preparedness surveys indicate 40 to 80 percent of people are unprepared to face emergencies. You should have emergency supplies in your vehicle, your locker at work and your home. If the prospect seems daunting, just start small. Think about being stuck somewhere for an extended period. What would you need? Items to consider include a first-aid kit, nonperishable food, bottled water, medicines, flashlights and blankets. Don't forget how important our smartphones and other electronic gadgets have become to us — invest in spare batteries and keep them charged and ready to go in all your emergency kits.

Prepare your family emotionally and strategically.

All families should create and practice disaster plans, but it's even more important for public safety families. In an emergency, you may have to stay on duty or be recalled. Is your family emotionally prepared for that? Are you? Do you feel you could adequately perform your job while worrying about the safety of your loved ones?

It will never be easy, but it can be a little less difficult if you prepare them. Show your family members how to shut off utilities. Identify places where you might reunite if separated. Talk to your children about how their phones will likely not work, and how all of you must be prepared to go several days without talking to one another. If it happens at school, where will they head after the immediate event is over? Will they have the awareness to empty their backpack of school books and stuff anything useful — coats, first-aid supplies, food, water — into it before heading off on foot? If your spouse is at work, where will he/she go? Assume roadways will be inaccessible and public transportation not operating.

These are not easy scenarios to work through, but if you do so as a family — and not once, but several times a year — it can provide reassurance when the Big One hits.

Review your department’s relevant policies.

Most departments develop detailed response plans for weather-related events. You should review these on a regular basis, especially because events like earthquakes are not seasonal. Do you know what's expected of you if you're off-duty when disaster strikes? If you must evacuate your station, what critical facility operations should be conducted before evacuating, and who is responsible for them? Are your generators serviced and ready to go?

Policies to review include your Emergency Action Plan, Urban Search and Rescue, Hazardous Materials Response, Emergency Recall and Public Alerts policies, among others. Responding to disasters includes a lot of improvisation, and no policy or procedure can provide a step-by-step plan. But they can provide a common starting point from which all members operate.

As you did in your family planning, walk through some scenarios. If your apparatus or station was destroyed, what would be the best way for you to stay safe but still be useful? What does "risk a lot to save a lot" mean when coming up on a residential high-rise building that's suffered a pancake collapse? Note: The point of these exercises is not really to come up with a specific plan, because you can't anticipate the exact circumstances you'll face. Rather, as with the planning you do with your family, such exercises help to develop the mental and emotional resilience you’ll need to successfully function when a disaster hits.

The ingenuity of American firefighters knows no bounds. The key lies in starting to tap that ingenuity now, to get all our minds thinking about what we might do and how we would do it in case of a disaster.

In every state across the country, first responders are subject to disasters both natural and human-caused. We have a responsibility to be prepared as firefighters and as individuals. As Gordon Graham says, don't be part of the problem. If we can't take care of ourselves, we're going to have a hard time taking care of others.

Sam DiGiovanna is a 33-year fire service veteran. He started with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, served as Fire Chief at the Monrovia Fire Department and currently serves as Chief at the Verdugo Fire Academy in Glendale. He also is VP of Fire Operations for