February 22, 2020

Local Jewish Organizations Prepare for Earthquakes

Following Southern California’s 6.4 magnitude earthquake on July 4 and a 7.1 earthquake on July 5, Jewish schools, synagogues and organizations around Los Angeles are taking extra precautions to prepare for additional temblors and other natural disasters. 

American Red Cross Los Angeles Region Emergency Preparedness Educator and Public Information Officer Naomi Goldman told the Journal, “We can’t predict or prevent all these natural disasters, but there are things people can do to make them better prepared to survive a disaster.” 

The Red Cross proposes three simple steps to prepare for emergency disasters: 

1. Put together a kit containing supplies for at least three days, including a gallon of water per person per day, nonperishable food, a flashlight and extra batteries, a first aid kit, medications and copies of important documents, such as identification papers, bank account records and insurance policies. 

2. Make a plan in case you’re separated from your family and propose what to do if you need to evacuate. 

3. Be informed about possible disasters and emergencies that may occur depending on where you live and work, and take first aid, CPR and AED (Automated External Defibrillator) courses to be prepared if help is delayed. 

“We are overdue for a large earthquake and we have no real meaningful predictor to know when it’s going to happen,” Goldman said. “All I can say is use the time you have now [to prepare].”

The Journal also spoke with a number of local Jewish organizations to see what steps they have undertaken in preparation for the “big one.” 

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

“This federation and our building on Wilshire Boulevard were devastated in the [1994 Northridge] earthquake,” Federation President and CEO Jay Sanderson said. “The building, when it was rebuilt, was seismically retrofitted and [it’s] as safe as any building could be in the city during an earthquake. Over seven years ago, our federation created the Community Security Initiative (CSI), which is designed to keep the Jewish community safe from all kinds of threats, and as part of that initiative, we created an early-warning system and a communications system. Earthquake preparedness is unique because it’s connected to the structure in which you work. [It’s] something that you have to build in.” 

To protect the 300 people who work in the building on any given day, Sanderson ensures staff participate in periodic training and “we have taken all the steps that we could when we built this [new] building to make it as safe as possible.”

Westside Jewish Community Center (JCC) 

“We worked hard on establishing an emergency response procedure that includes earthquakes … and [we do] trainings with students, children and staff on what the procedure is, how to prepare, what to do in case of an earthquake,” Westside JCC Executive Director Brian Greene said. “It’s part of being in school; it’s very natural for them.” 

In case of emergency, the JCC has established multiple advanced security measures, such as “a building-wide public address system, a communications system to be able to reach parents — it’s a web-based system, so we can get to it from anywhere — and an emergency texting system to all of our staff,” Greene said.  “You can’t live in Southern California and not put a high priority on earthquake preparedness.” 

Temple Beth Am

To protect the 500 people in its building throughout the day, Senior Rabbi Adam Kligfeld said, “We have an active safety and security team … and they are thinking about the entire campus and its readiness for all sorts of emergencies. While living in California, you’re always nervous about potential earthquakes. It hasn’t been on the radar so much in the last few years, yet the last set of earthquakes has raised our attention to it and it’s going to be a focus moving forward — listening to best practices out there for securing a building and also specifically what to do when the building is most full. We’re at the cusp of beginning to explore that.” 

B’nai David-Judea 

“After this recent [earthquake], we notified the congregants via email of the authority guidelines that are out there in multiple documents — stop, drop and cover — and we made them applicable to our facility,” Security Committee Chairman Lawrence Handman said. “We have professional security guards, numerous physicians [in our congregation], first aid kits around the building, and [volunteers who will] notify what’s happening, assess the circumstances and lead [evacuations if necessary].

“We have mobile phones in strategic locations in the building. We’re an Orthodox synagogue so many people don’t carry their phones. And we do have evacuation drills from time to time.” 

Milken Community Schools

“We continuously maintain and monitor our emergency preparedness supplies and the structural integrity of our facilities,” Director of Operations and Safety Nathan Humphreys said in an email. Humphreys added that it’s crucial to “[solidify] a communications and emergency response plan in order to swiftly and deliberately respond in an emergency. Having emergency supplies on hand to sustain students, staff, faculty and the campus in a disaster is paramount. Periodic inspections of these supplies are conducted as items expire.” 

With a total of 950 people in the building per day, Milken ensures that preparedness drills are conducted on a consistent basis to engage students and faculty in the safety of the school, but “we will be increasing the frequency [of] our education efforts regarding earthquake preparedness,” Humphreys said. 

Shalhevet High School

“We undertook a project to make sure we have enough emergency supplies in the event of an earthquake for [the 280] students and faculty who could be on campus during such an event,” Chief Operating Officer Sarah Emerson said in an email. The supplies, which include emergency lighting, food, water, hygiene and comfort supplies, “are kept in accessible areas and are monitored for expiration,” Emerson added. In the new Shalhevet building, earthquake, fire and lockdown drills are conducted regularly. “In light of the most recent earthquakes, we plan to include earthquake education in our faculty orientation programming,” Emerson said. “[We] are constantly looking for ways to improve our security in consultation with experts.” 

YULA Boys High School 

“In response to the two earthquakes that recently took place, we’re thankful that no one was hurt here, and our leadership team is revisiting our emergency protocol to make sure that everything is up to date,” Head of School Rabbi Arye Sufrin said. “We’re increasing our emergency supplies and making sure that [they] have not expired. This year at orientation, there will be a focal point on making sure that everyone is up to date on our emergency procedures. … The ideal plan is that we should only ever have to practice these drills.” 

For more information from the Red Cross on how to build an emergency kit, visit the website. 

Melissa Simon is a senior studying journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Jewish Journal summer intern.