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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About David Eisenman

I'm a physician and public health/health services researcher. I want to bring these perspectives to understanding disaster resilience.
This entry was posted in You gotta smile... and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Carmageddon — What Can we Learn From It?

  1. Dan Ewen says:

    Godspeed, David. But I fear that resistance is futile!

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