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Houston is a Wake-up Call for Santa Monica

August 30, 2017 4:45 PM
by Rick Cole

Houston is a Wake-up Call for Santa Monica

This week, all eyes are on Houston, as they should be.  Time to provide aid and prayers to all those in distress.

As we look ahead, however, there is a lesson we can’t ignore in this disaster.  Some calamities are truly unforeseen like airliners deliberately flown into highrises.  But even if the magnitude is truly staggering, no one should be surprised when Houston is hit by a hurricane.  Or Southern California by an earthquake.

That is why our City has embraced the idea of “resilience.”  Because it is not only the disaster we have to prepare for – it’s the recovery.

“Resilience” was born out of the trauma of Katrina.  Not only was New Orleans vulnerable to the failure of the very systems designed to protect it – too little thought or preparation had been devoted to how to provide a social “cushion” of security when disaster struck.  It was inevitable that the most vulnerable (people and neighborhoods) suffered the most – and the longest.

Just like in an individual who suffers trauma, resilience for a city draws on the reserves of character and experience to allow the community to endure and recover from disaster.  Resilience is not a product of luck or fate – it derives from learning from life’s adversities to cope with life’s calamities.  Active preparation and discipline are the best defense against future shock. 

We don’t have the luxury of pretending we don’t know any better.  Not after Katrina, Sandy, Fukushima and Harvey.  Emergencies happen.  If you are unprepared – individually or as a community – you can’t say you weren’t paying attention.  We know better.

Lindsay Barker is our Chief Resilience Officer leading a team that performs two vital functions.  Our Emergency Services & Preparedness is responsible for disaster planning, training and proactive community-based preparedness programs. Emergency Services & Preparedness also oversees the operation of the City's Emergency Operation Center which provides a central command center that’s activated for both major planned events like the LA Marathon and major incidents that involve multiple departments and partners.

Public Safety Communications provides joint dispatch services to the Police and Fire Departments.  Last year they handled 72,167 9-1-1 calls and 261,271 and non-emergency telephone calls.  Every hour of every day, our dispatchers are fielding calls, juggling public safety resources, sorting vital information out of often chaotic situations and often providing a calm and comforting voice amid trauma.

Beyond those core responsibilities, though, Lindsay and her team spearhead a longer-range strategic effort, intimately connected to both wellbeing and sustainability.  That’s creating that “cushion” of security that comes from work done collaboratively long before dire emergencies.  The connections, redundancies, systems and partnerships that will hold a community together, whether the stress is acute or chronic.  You see where those factors are holding together in Houston, where they are fraying and where they have broken under the strain of Harvey’s pummeling.  Our job in Santa Monica is to create a culture and structure of resilience that can hold together when our turn comes again.

"Hurricane Harvey is a heartbreaking reminder that disasters can happen at any time and how critical community connections are before, during, and after an emergency," Lindsay tells us.  "A similar catastrophic event could be seen in Santa Monica during an earthquake. It is critical to have a workforce that is ready and resilient in order to help the most vulnerable during trying times."

Check out the resources offered by our Office of Emergency Management– and how you can prepare for emergencies and disasters. You can also sign up for emergency alerts via text or email here at SM Alerts.

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