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MITIGATING CIRCUMSTANCES : AS THE THIRD ANNIVERSARY OF THE NORTHRIDGE EARTHQUAKE COMES AND GOES, LET US NOT FORGET THE PRESSING NEED TO SEISMICALLY REINFORCE HOMES AND BUSINESSES. INFORMATION IS AS CLOSE AS THE NEAREST LIBRARY.

Byline: James Lee Witt

THE jackhammers have ceased their endless drilling, and the freeways are jammed once again with people headed to work, exercise class and the grocery store. All in all, the routine of life in the Los Angeles area probably feels normal to most people right now.

Of course three years ago today, normal life in L.A. came to a halt as roads collapsed. Homes, hospitals, schools and shops were destroyed or shut down in mere seconds.

At the risk of bringing back bad memories, the third anniversary of the devastating Northridge Earthquake can serve as a valuable reminder of what homeowners and business owners can do to reduce the risk of damage in future earthquakes.

The costs of Northridge are estimated in the tens of billions - often pegged at $26 billion in losses and rebuilding costs and still climbing. In fact, the Northridge Earthquake is the largest natural disaster in U.S. history in terms of federal expenditures.

Many homeowners, renters and businesses paid thousands of dollars out of their own pockets to rebuild their lives. There is no way to recover what was lost, but there is a way to prevent future economic upheaval if a major earthquake strikes again by ``mitigating'' known risks.

Mitigation means taking action to help reduce the risk to property and make buildings safer in which to live and work by strengthening the structure and securing equipment, furniture and belongings. Mitigation reduces the pain, suffering and cost of future disasters.

At the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA) and in the California Office of Emergency Services, or OES, ``mitigation'' is a central focus for good reason. We can't afford the price tag of another Northridge Earthquake, and there's no reason why we should when we can mitigate many of the risks we face.

In the next year, FEMA plans to overhaul its approach to funding disaster relief. Over the last five years, we have experienced an unprecedented number of natural disasters and because of this, the cost of state, local and federal assistance after these disasters has skyrocketed.

One way to reduce these costs is for communities to take constructive action to reduce damage prior to the next disaster. To that end, FEMA is embarking on an ambitious campaign to prevent people and communities from becoming disaster victims.

This year, Congress agreed to establish a pre-disaster mitigation fund to provide financial incentives for high-risk communities to undertake mitigation projects. We are now ready to work with city, county and state officials to establish disaster-resistance communities to promote safer building and land-use practices throughout the entire country. We know up-front investments in mitigation will save all of us money in the long run.

As FEMA moves its disaster operations from merely cleaning up after disasters to working to prevent them, we're looking to home and business owners to do their part. Much of the damage to older homes and businesses caused by earthquakes can be reduced by simple, low-cost ``mitigation'' techniques.

As a home or business owner, imagine spending hundreds of dollars - to strengthen your property, versus the cost of replacing it entirely. Before the Northridge quake, Billy Martin of Hollywood followed step-by-step seismic safety guidelines for bolting down the foundation, strengthening the walls and chimney, and securing the inside corners of his bungalow home. When the earthquake struck, every single house on Billy Martin's block in Hollywood was damaged if not destroyed - with one exception - Martin's home. Billy Martin knows that mitigation works.

Last year the Clinton administration, in partnership with the state of California, and the private sector, invested more than $1 billion to rebuild hospitals damaged and destroyed by the Northridge Earthquake so that they will continue to function if an earthquake strikes again. Similarly, we have invested $120 million securing the overhead lights of schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District to protect schoolchildren in future events. Since the earthquake, more than $925 million in hazard mitigation funds have also been made available from the president's Disaster Relief Fund to help communities rebuild buildings and infrastructure to more stringent standards.

While government alone cannot be expected to finance the cost to mitigate the risks faced by homeowners and business owners, FEMA and the OES have resources available to help individuals create the safest possible home and work environment. Detailed information about mitigation is available on video, in book form, or on CD-ROM from every public library in Ventura, Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Take a moment this week to consider the seismic risk of your home or business.

With the memories of Northridge receding, and the rhythm of modern life pleasantly normal, it's the perfect time to consider what life would be like if an earthquake struck again. Think of the mess - broken dishes, tumbled appliances, shattered windows. Think of your house crumbling. Sometimes there's nothing more pleasant in life than believing the freeway will hold up in a disaster, or going to sleep knowing your floor won't slide off the foundation. Think about mitigation today.

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Photo: Broken dreams: Its dollar toll somewhere in the tens-of-billions range, the Northridge Earthquake was the largest natural disaster in U.S. history.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 17, 1997
Words:866
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