Homeland security is all about keeping the United States, its citizens, visitors, and infrastructure safe and resilient. It is essentially public safety with an eye to the most significant risks that we face. Homeland security encompasses both natural disasters and man-made events, and therefore must accommodate a plethora of situations and scenarios, including natural disasters, weather events, public health threats, catastrophic accidents, cyber attacks, major criminal acts, and acts of domestic and international terrorism.
Los Angeles region fire agencies play a substantive role in homeland security. The region’s activities span the five homeland security preparedness mission areas of the National Preparedness Goal: Prevention, Protection, Mitigation, Response, and Recovery.
|Prevention||Prevent, avoid or stop an imminent, threatened or actual act of terrorism.|
|Protection||Protect our citizens, residents, visitors, and assets against the greatest threats and hazards in a manner that allows our interests, aspirations, and way of life to thrive.|
|Mitigation||Reduce the loss of life and property by lessening the impact of future disasters.|
|Response||Respond quickly to save lives, protect property and the environment, and meet basic human needs in the aftermath of a catastrophic incident.|
|Recovery||Recover through a focus on the timely restoration, strengthening and revitalization of infrastructure, housing and a sustainable economy, as well as the health, social, cultural, historic and environmental fabric of communities affected by a catastrophic incident.|
The Los Angeles region has experienced dozens of natural disasters and countless major emergencies. The many seismic faults that traverse the region produce constant reminders of the region’s vulnerability to the destructive force of massive earthquakes. Tragic reminders of the inevitability of major earthquakes include the historic 1933 Long Beach Earthquake, which occurred on March 10, 1933, and caused an estimated $40 million in damage, and between 115 and 120 deaths. More recent reminders include the Northridge Earthquake, which occurred on January 17, 1994, and caused 74 deaths and losses estimated to exceed $25 billion; and the Sylmar Earthquake, which occurred on February 9, 1971, and caused 64 deaths and more than $550 million in damage. A major focus of our region’s preparedness is rightfully readiness for major earthquakes.
The hills in and around the Los Angeles region are known for their dangerously fast burning native vegetation, seasonal strong dry winds known as Santa Ana winds, and thousands of high value homes built in the secluded hills and valleys in what is known as the wildland urban interface. These dangerous conditions have laid the groundwork for numerous major emergency fires and a few catastrophic conflagrations.
Other weather phenomena known to the Los Angeles region include heat waves, cold waves, and strong storms, which have produced flash floods, debris flows, and destructive winds. Although rare, the region has also been hit by tornadoes. Since 1950, an estimated 40 tornadoes have struck Los Angeles, with a few strong ones being classified as Category Two on the Fujita scale by the National Weather Service.
The region’s fire departments must be prepared for these inevitable destructive events that are the product of nature. The region’s fire departments must also prepare for the range of major emergencies that are not the result of naturally occurring phenomena. Examples include major train accidents, aviation accidents, building collapses, major emergency fires, gas explosions, and refinery and oil tanker fires and explosions.
When these major emergencies occur, the region’s fire departments must be adept at integrating all elements of response and recovery with other responsible agencies and impacted community, business, and government stakeholders. They must maintain a high level of interoperability, both in communications and operations. A major focus of the Regional Training Group is to ensure that such interoperability exists and that the region’s fire departments maintain a high level of preparedness for incidents of national significance.
The Los Angeles region is not immune to the threat of major emergencies whose origins are more nefarious. Criminals, homegrown violent extremists, and domestic and international terrorists have all sought opportunities to bring death and destruction to the Los Angeles region. The specter of homegrown violent extremism and terrorism continues to threaten our region and will be a major focus of the Regional Training Group for the foreseeable future. A look at events occurring nationally and abroad reveals the need for ongoing vigilance, intelligence-sharing, and response readiness for the full array of mayhem that can be wrought on a civilian population by those with evil intentions.
It is vital that our regions fire departments be well integrated with other response agencies, participate in suspicious activity reporting initiatives, and train for the worst-case scenarios within the array of threat vectors that we are exposed to. In this way, we can enhance our level of homeland security and protect our regions valuable infrastructure and our most important assets, our communities.