It may have been 15 years ago, but I remember the day like it was yesterday. I felt the earth shake and I was 3,000 miles away that fateful morning.

 

On Jan. 17, 1994, the magnitude 6.7 Northridge earthquake struck in the early morning hour, decimating parts of the San Fernando Valley. Awakened by an urgent phone call from a friend and learning what I could from television news, I tried to reach colleagues, family and friends on the West Coast but all the phone lines were dead.

 

Like most Valley residents, I began awaiting the sun to rise in California to see the extent of the destruction. Feeling I needed to do something, I headed to Capitol Hill where I worked as legislative director for Congressman Howard Berman and ended up hiking in the snow on that Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.

 

Working through the Department of Defense liaison, I was able to contact colleagues and learned our district office had been “red tagged” or closed off because of quake hazards. We scrambled to set up a temporary district office – in the San Fernando City Jail. While we focused on immediate recovery efforts by engaging the federal bureaucracy, our district office staff and even Congressman Berman jumped into local relief efforts by filling his car with bottles of water to deliver to residents in need.

 

I began researching emergency spending bills and procedures. We reached out to other congressional offices to piece together an emergency aid spending bill that resulted in quick bipartisan approval of $14 billion in federal quake relief funds. We spent the next eight months and countless hours reviewing Federal Emergency Management Agency allocation formulas and helping Valley residents cut through red tape and get in touch with the right people to deal with such things as the complicated funding algorithms and Small Business Association loans where little tweaks here and there could mean millions of dollars in aid to businesses, hospitals and others.

 

The Northridge Earthquake recovery efforts for the most part have gone well. There were fears that we would have big pockets of “ghost towns” for many years, but we didn’t. People feared our hospitals would never be rebuilt, but we recently cut the ribbon on the new Panorama City Kaiser Hospital built with FEMA funding.

 

When I look around the Valley, I think of that fateful morning and how nicely we have recovered. Now I’m back in California serving in the state Legislature and want to make sure Valley residents are better prepared for the next “Big One.”

 

That is why I’ve announced the formation of the Valley Public Response for Emergency Preparedness Task Force. Valley PREP is a public task force comprised of local residents who will assist my office in raising awareness of disaster preparedness issues in the Valley that we need to be concerned about, and hopefully identifying solutions we can implement either on the ground, legislatively or in cooperation with other agencies.

 

Just as the San Fernando Valley was the epicenter of the Northridge Earthquake in 1994, it must become the epicenter of disaster preparedness before the next emergency hits us.

 

Assemblymember Bob Blumenfield represents the San Fernando Valley’s 40th Assembly District.

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