Opinion: When Water Is Currency — and You Are Broke


September each year is National Preparedness Month, and our city dedicates its activities to preparing for the emergencies we are likely to encounter during an earthquake. In West Hollywood the most imminent threat for which we must prepare is the long-awaited “big one,” the inevitable major earthquake, which will cause considerable damage, devastation and human casualties.

Our public agencies have for years been promoting the importance of preparing our homes, schools and businesses to survive, not just the quake, but the aftermath when no organized aid will be available for some time. That could be as long as two weeks in the worst case. Even with such calls for citizens to prepare, my guess is that no more than 10% of West Hollywood’s households are ready. Businesses may be more prepared because, if the event occurs during business hours there could be both employees and guests, visitors or shoppers for whom to provide initial aid. Businesses are more likely to have an organized plan and to train some of their employees in response.

carleton cronin, west hollywood observer
Carleton Cronin

We’ve all heard the call to prepare so many times that we simply don’t hear the message anymore. Further, the increasing complexity and “busyness” of our lives mutes such calls to prepare. So, most of us do nothing, deaf to the message or trusting to chance. During the 48 years I have lived in the greater Los Angeles area, I can recall only three large quakes that were alarming and caused much damage. Daily, we are told, hundreds of small quakes occur, and we don’t notice them. I often straighten pictures on my walls, their being askew the only indication that any quake activity occurred. However, that’s enough to alert me to the fact that quakes are part of our geologic reality and there certainly could be a “big one” cooking.

So, what happens when a truly damaging quake enters our lives? Usually, the first reaction is panic followed by bad decisions of where to go and what to do. During one of the larger quakes some years ago a TV newscaster was derided for ducking under his desk as the studio lights swayed back and forth above him. He did the right thing at the time. Recall the slogan taught in schools: STOP – DROP – COVER. Still pertinent advice.

Noise, panic, yelling, confusion…now what? Where to go for help. Who will help? Where’s the fire department? Where are the police? For perhaps as long as 36 hours those people we call “first responders” will be out surveying the situation to see where they are most needed. Don’t look to City Hall for help. During a daytime event, they will be busy in the Emergency Operations Center keeping the city functioning and coordinating at least some of the recovery effort. During a night-time or weekend event, there will be fewer people available at City Hall to assist. The many city employees who live outside WeHo will have their own problems. In the meantime, you’re on your own. What does that mean?

Most human cultures promote, often through religious strictures, clan cultures, parental guidance, that there is virtue in helping one’s fellow man through a crisis. Those who have seen perhaps too much of life will note that is not always so – in fact when it sometimes occurs, the person of good will may be given a medal or a fancy commendation plaque and public thanks. We applaud such individual actions and urge our children to emulate them. This does not always encourage others to act with compassion. The virtue of individual sacrifice is not taught and is rare in our crowded societies. In a disaster scenario, more often than not it is “every man for himself.” Panic prevails until reason returns. Think about the following.


If you are injured, you’ll have to take care of yourself – unless someone in your family or neighborhood or office or retail place has the knowledge to assist you. A small fire in your kitchen? Have a fire extinguisher and know how to use it – or, is there another way to extinguish a stove fire? A neighbor’s house is moved off its foundation and is partially collapsed, and you can hear someone calling for help. Could you help?

Happily, you are one of the few who bothered to store water and food and sanitary supplies against the very possibility of being on your own. And here is where I ask, “am I my brother’s keeper?” Two days into the aftermath a few neighbors show up at your door. They know you were prepared and want to have some of your water.

Let’s say that the “big one” really knocked out all the utilities and the first responders are busy picking up their own pieces, so relief is not readily possible anytime soon. Do you share? How long will you share? You stored enough for your family for two weeks, yet, in just three days neighbors have drawn down your supply. Where do you stop? Just how charitable are you prepared to be? If you are the un-ready one, do you expect your neighbor to offer aid? Water then becomes currency – with far more buying power than gold.

When one thinks about it, it is really insane that we all do not prepare to some degree for the inevitable terribly destructive earthquake we constantly hear is long overdue. There are commercial outlets that carry emergency supplies and some even offer classes to prepare. Our city has an emergency management coordinator in the Public Safety department with information for you.

One of the best ways to individually prepare is CERT, a program widely used throughout the country which trains citizens in the principal aspects of survival during and after a disastrous event – or even for everyday situations. WeHoRecert.org is our local resource for CERT info. Another free website is FEMA.gov. Sign up for its bi-weekly bulletin on individual and community preparedness. Recent bulletins have covered such topics as:

— How will your family evacuate?
— Are you financially prepared for a natural disaster? (downloadable booklet)
— CERT program in Phoenix, Ariz.
— Preparedness for parents
— Preparedness for the disabled and others access to functional needs
— Learning how to recognize and treat heat-related illness
— Get ready for National Preparedness month – September
— Preparedness for kids

The current bulletin is all about CERT. See it in action around the country.

Aside from individual and family preparations, even neighbors could get together to support a cache of supplies and share in training to care for each other. Whole blocks or buildings could do the same. No law against that sort of thinking ahead.

There’s more than enough information available for anyone interested in preparing to survive reasonably the aftermath of a large earthquake. Human nature, being what it is, most of us will do nothing. But, when water becomes currency will you be ready to share?

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6 years ago

Great reminders, Carleton. There’s a company that sells boxed water and that’s perfect for storage, especially in the trunk of your car (plastic breaks down, as we all know). It’s a good idea to turn off the gas and to help your neighbors do so. Much of the damage the infamous San Francisco Earthquake in 1906 was caused by fire. Don’t forget to store extra medications that you take. The list goes on. It could all be a family or a neighborhood project. Anyway, Carleton, you’ve inspired me to do an inventory at home and for the car.

Bob Abrahams
Bob Abrahams
6 years ago

Thank you. There’s never too much reminding about this, ,and you said it perfectly. Be clear on what to do Before, During, and After a major disaster, and around here that’s likely an earthquake.

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