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Carmageddon — What Can we Learn From It?

I ignored the Rapture in May.  But Carmageddon is an opportunity for learning that no student of resilience should miss.   By now everyone knows that a 10 mile section of the 405 freeway, between the 10 and 101, is scheduled to be closed for 53 hours on the weekend of July 15-17. It’s the Rapture, LA style. I’m afraid it may also be a missed opportunity for preparedness officials interested in increasing community resilience.

The price you pay to live in LA

“It will be mayhem,” says the Official Carmageddon website.  Before reading any further, check out their xtranormal video to the right of the website.  It’s LOL funny.

A resilience analysis of Carmageddon finds LA off to a strong start.  I’ll use RAND’s framework and begin by examining the Risk Communications.  Very effective risk communications in my opinion.  They are clear, repetitive, in simple language and they started early—months ago.

They are everywhere (electronic highway message boards normally reserved for Amber Alerts; highway signs, newspaper articles, radio, television).  There have been community meetings with highway and emergency services officials answering questions.  Even (credible? trusted?) celebrities like Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, Lady Gaga, and Kim Kardashian  have been recruited to warn about it in their tweets. And the messages are actionable: You Might As Well Stay Home. (“But I have a GroupOn coupon for botox and it expires on Saturday?” “Not happening.”)

Believe her when she tells you

Community Engagement and Partnerships are increasing. Kudos go to the communities, organizations and businesses that are involved in preparing for this.  The hospitals are encouraging local staff to open their homes to their colleagues, and secured housing on

Actual UCLA Message

the UCLA campus for those who would otherwise commute in.  Santa Monica officials are using it as an opportunity to promote their Buy Local Santa Monica program. “Don’t look at the weekend closure as a negative. Take advantage of this opportunity [to get to know your own neighborhood again].” And check out Zev Yaroslavsky’s (the LAC Supervisor) “53 Ways to Survive Without the 405” that includes 10 ways to build community around this event.  One Facebook page encourages local bonding.  All of Yaroslavsky’s suggestions will improve our resilience even after the mayhem is over.  Now that is resilience:  using a bad event to rebound and become stronger afterward!

It’s easy to be cynical and call this opportunism.  But resilience requires self-interested businesses and organizations like the Santa Monica program.  The Car-Mageddon website is a great example.  Their “Who We Are” page says:

The “Car-mageddon” team is comprised of some of the top PR, social media, and creative artists in the Los Angeles area &, most importantly, five Santa Monica friends coming together to help get LA through Car-mageddon! The project is a platform for bars, restaurants and shops to promote their brand and, ultimately, unite the community through shared, memorable experiences.

On one Facebook site there are hotels offering discounted stays during that time.  We love win-win situations.  Yes, let’s unite the community through shared experiences.  Speaking of self-interests: We also love our social networking technologies in this field so I’m glad to report that Waze is promoting their app that uses crowd source technology to assist in your own personal response and recovery.

Importantly, Carmageddon will require Self Sufficiency.  This guy says it all: “We’ll be landlocked and isolated,” says San Fernando Valley resident Gerald Silver. “We’re going to Ralphs early, stocking up and not leaving the house for two days.”   So this will be good practice of the useful skill of sheltering in place.

Here’s one take-home message. Carmageddon is an opportunity for preparedness officials.  Hundreds of local activities will be held that weekend that will bring people together. I know of several block parties and mini-mall parties in my neighborhood, for instance.  Shelter in Place meets Socialize in Place.  All of them will be celebrating their hyper-localism and dependency on each other, their new sense of community, the neighbors they will be meeting for the first time.  (How much you want to bet that the LA Times will report on this as a major outcome.)  It’s a huge, predictable opportunity to “leverage” a Car-Tastrophe into longer-term resilience building, all under the lovely, July skies.  Imagine if each event was used as a “Map Your Neighborhood” opportunity?  This is bigger than the Great Shakeout because, frankly, its more like the real thing.

Full disclosure: I live on one of the canyon roads between the Valley and the basin only 3 miles from the closure.  I’m practicing Evacuation that weekend.  I will return July 24th.  Best of Luck Everyone.

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Peat Wildfire Linked to Cardio-Pulmonary Emergency Department Visits

An EPA study shows for the first time that smoke from a peat bog wildfire (decayed vegetable matter found in swampy areas) can lead to an increase in emergency room visits for both respiratory and cardiovascular effects.

Meanwhile, the Los Alamos fire is burning close to radioactive materials stored under a tent.  As of last night the blaze remained listed as at zero percent containment and burning largely unchecked in its third day. “It contains approximately 20,000 barrels of nuclear waste,” former top security official Glen Walp said. “It’s not contained within a concrete, brick and mortar-type building, but rather in a sort of fabric-type building that a fire could easily consume.”

Meanwhile, flood waters continue to rise around the Midwest nuclear power plants.

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The Big One Will Bankrupt You, Not Kill You

Resilience is about our community’s health.  And nothing is more important than jobs to our community’s health.  So we should be concerned, very concerned, by the  U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics report released today.

The once-per-century-Big-One may kill only as many people as die from food poisoning in the U.S. yearly–several thousand people.  But they may survive and be without any income, according to this report.  This is because more than 430,000 businesses and 4.5 million jobs reside in the areas most likely to be destroyed when the Big One hits Souther California.

In a sparsely described piece of data analysis, the authors merged geo-coded employment data with Lucy Jones’s ShakeOut Scenario model that displays how much shaking will occur and where during a 7.8 earthquake in Southern California.

I became a doctor partly because I thought it would make my income more resilient during tough times (what can I say, I heard too many stories growing up.)  Now I learn healthcare is concentrated in the zones that will be affected most by the shaking.   72 percent of health care workplaces are located in the zones that are classified as “very strong shaking zones” (MMI 7) or “destructive shaking zones” (MMI 8 and higher)–zones that are expected to experience the most damage.   Manufacturing, Wholesale Trade, and Education are the other hardest hit industries with the greatest loss of jobs and annual wages.  On the other hand, “Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting” will do relatively well with only 27% of its employed workers in shaking zones.

What I really wanted was to become a forest-ranger.

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Jonathan Fielding Asks About Resilience

Jonathan Fielding, LA County’s Public Health Director is a very smart man. Here is what he said today:  The National Health Security Strategy’s community resilience aims has “so many pieces that are difficult to operationalize.”  Here are examples he gave:

  1. “Prevent, withstand, and mitigate the stress of a health incident”; How much mitigation? What is stress?
  2. “Recover in a way that restores the community to a state of self-sufficiency and at least the same level of health and social functioning after a health incident”; when has a community reached self-sufficiency again? What is the time-span for this to occur? How do we know the “new normalcy” when it arrives?
  3. “Use knowledge from a past response to strengthen the community’s ability to withstand the next health incident”; what will count as strengthening? How much withstanding must be achieved? Again, what is the timespan here?
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