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Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Northridge Earthquake Anniversary: LA to partner with seismic expert to prepare for Big One

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A well-known seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey will work with the City of Los Angeles this year to prepare for a major earthquake, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced Tuesday. 

The announcement was made to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Northridge earthquake, a 6.7 magnitude quake that killed 57 people, collapsed seven freeway bridges and damaged 82,000 buildings to the tune of $20 billion. 

Lucy Jones will continue to be a federal employee, but she will essentially be on loan to the city as an advisor to Garcetti. Her recommendations on retrofitting private buildings, protecting the city's water supply, maintaining communication systems, and ensuring firefighters can respond to emergencies will be presented to the mayor in December. 

RELATED: The Northridge Earthquake 20 years later

"What it will be like will depend a lot on what we do in the next year," Jones said when asked what the city would look like following a disastrous earthquake.

"Now, if the earthquake happens tomorrow, we know that we have hundreds of thousands of buildings that will not be able to be occupied," Jones added. "We know we will have substantial fires. We know we will see breaking of the water system."

The partnership comes just one week after the California Geological Survey issued detailed maps of the Hollywood Fault and the Sierra Madre Fault in the San Gabriel Valley. Critics of the Millennium Hollywood project have long said city officials should have required seismic studies before approving the major housing/retail development, which sits squarely within the fault zone. 

The announcement also follows Los Angeles Times articles that detailed how thousands of "soft-story" buildings in the city have not been retrofitted to withstand a quake. 

Asked why the city may finally be able to move ahead on earthquake safety, the mayor said, "There's tremendous momentum." 

"This is a politically difficult thing to do but we're committed to making sure that we hold public meetings across Los Angeles to let people know who own buildings the importance of this, and to think creatively about how we can address that," Garcetti said. 

Councilman Mitch Englander, chair of the council's Public Safety Committee, announced the city would sign onto a bill in the state legislature that would provide tax incentives to property owners who retrofit their buildings. 

KPCC is producing a weeklong series of stories on KPCC leading up to Friday's 20th anniversary of the devastating 1994 Northridge Earthquake. The series will explore the quake's history, its effects and its legacy. You can view more stories on our Northridge Anniversary page.  Let us know what you think on our Facebook page, on Twitter ("@" mention @KPCC)  and in the comments below.

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