A Chatsworth woman’s response to a community disaster has blossomed into a citywide “OK/HELP” campaign to aid firefighters and rescue workers comb the streets after a major earthquake or fire.
Lucie Volotzky held back tears of happiness on Monday at the kick-off of the citywide campaign which began locally in 2010 with seed money from the Chatsworth Neighborhood Council.
“Some people began doubting the success of the campaign,” Volotzky said during a mock emergency drill held on a Chatsworth cul-de-sac. But city official saw the value in her program. Volotzky is an elected member of the Chatsworth Neighborhood Council.
Fifty thousand window-sign posters, slightly larger than a legal pad, are being printed. They show "OK" on a green background and "HELP" on a red background.
City officials are calling the free placards a valuable tool to help citizens and first responders in the immediate aftermath of a major disaster.
Homeowners, apartment dwellers and business owners can place the placard in their front window indicating to emergency personnel or neighbors if they are "OK" or need "HELP."
After the Sept. 12, 2008, Metrolink train crash in Chatsworth that took the lives of 25 in a head-on collision with a freight train, Volotzky attended emergency preparedness classes offered by the Los Angeles Fire Department and formed a committee that developed the pilot program to help neighbors and emergency first-responders.
“This is critical,” Councilman Mitch Englander said. "Here in the San Fernando Valley, we're at the epicenter of major disasters, so we know it is not a question of if, but when the Big One will strike. Just like an earthquake survival kit, the OK/HELP sign should be in every home.” Englander is chair of the Los Angeles Public Safety Committee.
Dr. Lucy Jones of the U.S. Geological Survey said an earthquake along the San Andreas fault would affect 10 million people and the aftershocks would feel similar to the 6.8-magnitude 1994 Northridge temblor. Jones also said a half-million people were affected in the Northridge quake.
LAFD Chief Brian Cummings encourages residents to become certified emergency response team (CERT) members. Free classes are beginning October 17 in Granada Hills.
Cummings said there are 951 firefighters on duty at any one time to cover the city’s 470,000 square miles and 4 million residents and visitors, stretching his department extremely thin during major disasters.
“I want the city of Los Angeles to be the most prepared and the most resilient city,” Cummings said adding that his goal is to have one million voluntary emergency responders over the next few years.
Cummings said if you are injured during a natural disaster, you should call 9-1-1 and then put the “HELP” sign in your window. The sign should be kept near the window and not some other part of the house so it is easily located.
The American Red Cross has an app for cellular phone owners if they have access to the Internet after an earthquake.
“You can post information to let your family know you are OK,” said Chief Communications Officer Theresa Corigliano of the American Red Cross. “It’s also available in Spanish.”
Monica Diaz, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, said following an earthquake, tap the "I'm Safe" button and it will post a message on all social media networks.
“If you have no Internet access on a computer or smart phone after an earthquake, Red Cross staff or volunteers at your local Red Cross shelter can help you try to establish contact,” Diaz said. “They often establish networks among different shelters to help people find loved ones.”
Some of the places where the posters will be available are at fire stations, libraries, police departments, neighborhood council meetings and Englander’s office.
The poster launch comes in advance of the Great ShakeOut, America's largest earthquake drill. At 10:18 a.m., Thursday, Oct. 18, millions of people, at schools, businesses and community-based organizations will Drop, Cover and Hold on.
Last year more than 12.5 million people participated.
The Great ShakeOut is an opportunity to be better prepared to survive and quickly recover from a major earthquake. Visit shakeout.org/california to register or find a wide range of resources on earthquake preparedness.
To see a graphic of the “OK/HELP” sign online, visit http://db.tt/wJra70QV.