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How Los Angeles Is Setting the Tone for Disaster Preparedness

July 3, 2014
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How Los Angeles Is Setting the Tone for Disaster Preparedness
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
The duties of the chief resilience officer: Improving catastrophe recovery and energy efficiency.

Earthquakes, superstorms, hurricanes and flooding have become a mainstay in American headlines. But rather than simply brace for Mother Nature, Los Angeles is joining an international initiative to help cities better prepare for natural disasters.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced plans to hire a “chief resilience officer,” tasked with improving the city’s recovery plan from man-made or natural disasters, according to the Los Angeles Times. The mayor also committed to surveying the city for at-risk infrastructure in the event of a major earthquake as well as how efficiently the city is using water and electricity.

“Why should we be going and looking at buildings on their seismic safety if we don’t also look at the energy that they’re consuming and the water that they consume?” Garcetti said.

Los Angeles’s action is part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s effort to help cities around the world implement better safety prevention and planning. The aim is to help urban planners prepare for the influx of people moving to cities. In fact, the United Nations projects that three-fourths of the world’s population will move to an urban area by 2050, according to a Rockefeller Foundation report.

The nonprofit is awarding 100 cities with funding to hire a “chief resilience officer,”  and has selected 33 recipients so far, according to the foundation website. Los Angeles is one of 372 cities that applied to become one of the 100 Resilient Cities, and the nonprofit has pledged to pay the salary of L.A.’s future CRO for the first two years, as well as other funding to develop a response plan.

But Los Angeles has already begun its efforts without the nonprofit’s help. The mayor approved action to hire three people at the building department to outline a list of vulnerable residential buildings. Garcetti also acknowledged support for a compulsory check on retrofitting older building at risk as well as grading buildings for seismic safety.

He also appointed a prominent U.S. Geological Survey seismologist to spend this year meeting with scientists and community members to draft recommendations on retrofitting buildings for better safety and ensuring water and communications systems remain available in the event of a disaster. The foundation’s president, Michael Berkowtiz, said he was “really impressed by the innovative and visionary leadership that the mayor was providing on these issues.”

New Orleans, Berkley and San Francisco have also been selected, adding “chief resilience officer” responsibilities to their respective earthquake czar job title. Another U.S. recipient using funding for sustainability issues: El Paso, Texas.

MORE: A New Museum Exhibit Educates About Disaster Preparedness

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