Every round-number anniversary of one of Southern California's major earthquakes brings reminders of how much residents, builders and public officials have done to be ready for the next time — and how much more preparation is needed.
Those conversations should be especially intense as the region nears the 20th anniversary of the Northridge earthquake in January.
A report has refocused attention on the risks posed by unreinforced concrete buildings in Los Angeles County and offered a reminder that it will take public pressure on officeholders to spur the needed changes.
Awareness of the fragility of concrete-framed buildings in earthquakes is nothing new. In the wake of the Jan. 17, 1994, quake centered in the San Fernando Valley that killed 57 people, seismologists worried that a quake of the same 6.7 magnitude under the old buildings in downtown L.A. would cause a larger loss of life.
But a Los Angeles Times report over the weekend added specifics to the general concern. The newspaper analyzed city and county records and building permits, interviewed building owners and concluded that more than 1,000 concrete structures lack the modern steel reinforcements that would protect them against side-to-side shaking. This matches the number cited by then-Councilman Greig Smith in a 2011 Daily News story.
The Times concluded further that a quake the size of the Northridge quake — or the 6.6 Sylmar quake that killed 65 in 1971 — could bring down more than 50 L.A. residential, industrial and office buildings.
City, county and state leaders have done a lot to prepare infrastructure, emergency teams and homeowners for the inevitable Big One. Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill to expand a quake sensor system. Southern Californians will take part Thursday in the annual Shakeout drill.
Building codes have been tightened. But has enough been done to prompt retrofitting? Property owners won't leap to pay for upgrades without pressure or financial help from public officials. Previous City Council members' efforts fizzled.
Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilmen Mitch Englander and Tom LaBonge say they want to look at the risks highlighted in the latest newspaper report and what should be done. Their constituents should make sure they do.