How Prepared is Santa Monica? Council Wants to Know
By Gene Williams
September 9 -- Although nearly two weeks have passed since Hurricane Katrina pounded the Gulf Coast with torrential rains and winds of up to 150 miles per hour, the full horror and devastation of the storm is just becoming known.
And as what could easily be the worst natural disaster in the nation’s history continues to dominate the news, Americans everywhere – including in Santa Monica – are asking many of the same questions.
Why were residents of the affected regions so seemingly unprepared in spite of the days of warning beforehand? Why were State and Federal agencies so slow to respond afterward? What if a similar disaster were to happen here?
While City Council members Bob Holbrook and Richard Bloom say they don’t expect a hurricane to hit Santa Monica anytime soon, they point out that our region is at “significant risk for other disasters, including earthquakes, tsunamis and terrorism.”
They want to know just how prepared our city is and, in a memo to their fellow council members, have asked that the council direct staff to “investigate and return with information” about “the lessons learned from the Hurricane Katrina disaster.”
The memo – which will be read at next Tuesday’s council meeting – states that the tragedy “makes it clear that local resources can be quickly overwhelmed” and “early reports seem to show that Federal and State governments, while aware of the potential disaster, were not prepared to respond quickly and effectively when the disaster struck.”
Holbrook and Bloom want staff to meet with local, state, federal and non-profit relief agencies to find out if Santa Monica and the region could be risking a similar fate.
“One thing that seems to be of great concern is the state of preparedness at the federal and state levels,” Bloom said. He’s worried that a “shift of funds” from natural disaster readiness to the war on terrorism may have compounded the recent tragedy.
“That’s an issue that is going to require a lot of consideration,” Bloom said.
The memo states that the sluggish response to Katrina “appears to have been due, in part, to lack of funding and diversion of resources to the war in Iraq.”
“Similar circumstances exist in California,” it says.
The memo also notes that “the ill, the poor, and seniors” who are most “vulnerable” seemed to be the hardest hit by the hurricane.
“Much of this appears to have been due to the lack of transportation available to those groups,” the memo goes on to say. “In Southern California, an inability to assist those without access to personal transit could create a similar dynamic.”
Finally, Holbrook and Bloom are asking staff to come Tuesday prepared to “update” the council about the ongoing relief efforts in the South as well as what Santa Monicans are doing to help.
Bloom said he wanted the council to take “a moment to thank all the Santa Monicans who have stepped up to the plate” to aid those in the storm ravaged regions.
City staff said that they have been in contact with County and State Offices of Emergency Services and other relief agencies since the disaster.
“We’re really taking our lead from the Red Cross and working very closely with them,” said City spokesperson Judy Rambeau, noting that so far seven evacuee families have been placed in local hotels by the Red Cross.
“The only non-school shelters in town are already at capacity, with homeless individuals, as I know you are aware, so we are grateful to the Red Cross for helping with these placements,” Rambeau said.
Rambeau said that the City applauds “the many individual efforts ongoing in town, including the collection by residents near Franklin School” where six large trucks were loaded with donated household items before leaving for Slidell, Louisiana last Tuesday. (see related story)
But the best way most of Santa Monica residents can help is by donating money to the relief effort, she said.
Rambeau anticipates “an interesting discussion” when Holbrook and Bloom’s memo is brought up at Tuesday’s council meeting.
“I think individual council members will come with some ideas (of their own) of the best way to respond to the people on the Gulf Coast,” she said.
Council member Holbrook, who co-authored the memo with Bloom, was unreachable
for comment in this article.
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