Interview with Ken Kondo, Emergency Program Manager/Public Information Officer
We probably all remember doing earthquake and fire drills every year in school, but how many of us still remember exactly what to do for different events, or practice regularly? We all (hopefully) know that living in California means living with the real chance of serious natural disasters, but most of us still tell ourselves we’ve got time to get that emergency plan figured out with the family, or to gather our emergency supplies. It’s hard to motivate ourselves to act now for something that may happen tomorrow, months, or years from now.
That’s where the Los Angeles County Chief Executive Office, Office of Emergency Management (OEM) comes in - to get LA County’s residents, businesses, whole communities, and visitors, and response and recovery infrastructure ready for the next big … well, anything. 211 LA interviewed OEM Emergency Program Manager and Public Information Officer, Ken Kondo, for an inside look at the past and present of the worldwide Great ShakeOut earthquake safety drill; the secret weapon for disaster response (hint, it could be you!); and the critical partnership between OEM, the LA County Departments, and 211 LA for disaster response and recovery.
OEM At a Glance
Agency type: Los Angeles County Office within the Chief Executive Office
Programs and services:
- Emergency Preparedness - provides public education and outreach, planning, and public information
- Response and Recovery - Coordinates training, exercises, and drills with the LA Operational Area Partners, including LA County’s 88 cities, 137 unincorporated communities and over 200 special districts; Maintains the County’s Emergency Operations Center; Coordinates information and resources at the EOC in partnership with the Sheriff’s Department.
Connection with 211 LA: During disasters, OEM can activate the 211 LA Disaster Public Information Hotline, which anyone can access by dialing 2-1-1 if they’re in LA County, or (800) 339-6993 if they’re outside LA County (or view information or chat online at our website or social media), for official, up to date information on anything from evacuation areas and routes, shelter sites, donations, recovery resources and more. 211 LA’s live, trained advisors help guide the person to the information they need or the action they need to take. OEM can also activate 211 LA as a one stop shop for gathering damage reports after a disaster to inform requests to the state or national government for recovery assistance. 211 LA disseminates OEM’s emergency preparedness materials at community events and by mail upon request.
211 LA Database page
Fun Fact: OEM helped launch the first large scale earthquake safety event, the Southern California ShakeOut, in 2008 - and 10 years later it’s gone global as the Great ShakeOut, with 59 million people around the world participating!
ShakeOut for Earthquake Safety - “Drop, Cover, & Hold.”
The 2018 Great ShakeOut (held on 10/18/18 at 10:18am) is expected to have close to 60 million participants, all practicing the universal earthquake safety procedure to “Drop, Cover, and Hold” or “Lock, Cover, and Hold” for people in wheelchairs and walkers. Only after the building is deemed safe “shaking” stops are people supposed to evacuate the building and meet at their building’s or family’s designated reunification spot.
Unexpected things happen during an earthquake take a moment to stop and think about hazards around you that could result from a quake - what could fall off of shelves or walls, and if the exit near you was blocked how else could you get out?
In 2009, Ken Kondo and OEM was a leader in organizing the first large scale regional earthquake safety event, known then as the “Southern California ShakeOut.” Within a year, the event grew into the “Great California ShakeOut,” and included the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. In 2017, 58 million people around the world, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, participated in the Shakeout.
“It’s always been something that the federal, state and county governments and local municipalities wanted to put together, working with the experts - the seismologists, geologists, colleges and universities - where we can get residents and businesses, schools, churches, and all the different organizations to do an action step of preparedness, before that earthquake strikes,” said Kondo.
California’s history of large earthquakes like the Northridge quake in 1994, whose 6.7 magnitude destroyed freeways and took around 60 lives and injured thousands, makes this kind of program crucial.
Disaster Response Secret Weapon: "Neighbors Helping Neighbors" - Training the public in emergency response
Past disasters have shown that local communities are most effective in immediate emergency response. To help prepare communities to be their own first responders, OEM and its partners coordinate public outreach events, trainings, resource fairs, exercises and drills, and informational presentations on disaster preparedness and response.
September was national Emergency Preparedness month, and this year the LA County Prepareathon featured 80 events throughout 2018, and involved LA County Libraries and Departments, CalTech, Southern California Gas Company, SoCal Edison, LA County Board of Supervisors, Emergency Preparedness supply companies, and law enforcement, fire, and public works departments, and more.
One of the most valuable trainings residents can receive, in addition to being CPR/AED certified, is to become part of FEMA’s Community Emergency Response Team, or “CERT.”
“What I’ve noticed with responding to national and county disasters is that it’s neighbors helping neighbors. We always say to people who are part of our LA County Prepareathon Program: ‘you can be a hero.’ That is what we’ve seen in recent disasters that have happened all over the world. It’s that first responders are going to be busy, and they will be impacted by the disaster as well - their families, and their facilities.”
So in other words, don’t count on being rescued by first responders - instead, be ready to act locally with your neighbors, become a CERT member and build a neighborhood response plan.
211 LA & OEM - Centralizing Public Disaster Information
While visiting Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath, Kondo saw there was no place to report fires or other damage because all the fire departments had been wiped out. He realized the need for a central, alternative location that could handle large numbers of calls and reports coming in, and advocated for 211 LA County to host a disaster hotline, to be activated by OEM as needed.
Since then, 211 LA and OEM have worked closely together to develop a smooth process for activating the Disaster Public Information Hotline for situations ranging from wildfires, storms and wind events, gas leaks, and public health emergencies. Disaster damage reporting was added in 2011 when OEM was tasked with reporting the monetary amount of damages from the Los Angeles County Windstorms, and a central infrastructure was needed to gather the reports of more than $70 million in damages countywide.
“What it did is it took the pressure off of LA County’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC). 211 LA has the staffing and infrastructure to handle the volume of calls, emails, and submissions,” said Kondo.
Comprehensive damage reporting is essential to enabling the county to report and potentially qualify for state and federal disaster assistance to help Los Angeles county recover in the event of a large scale disaster.
Kondo is confident in the communication and response infrastructure LA County’s OEM, County Departments, first responders, 2-1-1, and other partners have created. It is his and OEM’s goal to prepare as many people as possible for any disaster that strikes Los Angeles county.