It’s been two decades since the magnitude 6.7 Northridge earthquake shook Los Angeles to its core. Richard Andrews presided over the Herculean effort to make the city whole again.
Andrews shares lessons for disaster recovery here. At the end, he shares these thoughts on how connectedness between people can help during a disaster and recovery.
"With the exception of some of the large fires in San Diego a few years ago, California hasn’t had to deal with anything near the severity of a Northridge quake in the last decade. No major flooding or major earthquakes. No major terrorist attack. The systems that we have in place to share and process information, mobilize resources, and give guidance to the public in the event of a disaster are effective. But they also are fragile. With disuse, they have a tendency to atrophy over time.
The real difficulty in disaster response and recovery is maintaining the linkages and the connections between various agencies and jurisdictions—and the people in charge of them. It’s almost a cliché in this field, but when disaster strikes, you don’t want to be trading business cards with people on the tarmac in the middle of nowhere.
During Wilson’s first administration, every year on average brought a new catastrophe and a new Presidential Disaster Declaration. We got very good at keeping those linkages and connections in the 1990s, not because we were uniquely talented or uniquely capable by any means, but we just had a lot of stuff to deal with. We were almost constantly in either an emergency response mode or in a recovery mode—not only at the state level but also for local jurisdictions.
I worry sometimes about the capacity of various agencies and jurisdictions today to communicate with one another during disasters—their ability to know what everyone is doing. Again, the people who are responsible for these functions at both the local and state levels are professional, they’re well trained, but considering that they lack the shared experience that comes from real events happening, who knows?"