Saturday, May 30, 2015

Seven Random City Fun Facts: Colton

COLTON - Motoring rapidly along Interstate 10 perhaps on the way to Palm Springs for some sunshine and retro decor, or maybe you are driving all the way to the I-10's eastern terminus in Jacksonville, Florida, one of the many cities you come across is Colton. A fast glance at Colton shows no more than a typical Southern California suburb that is part of the puzzle piece making up the megalopolis that is the Los Angeles Basin.

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The intersection of what is now Valley Boulevard and La Cadena Drive before the "development bomb" of the 1960s. Used under a Creative Commons license.

As is the case with many places across Southern California there is more to Colton than meets the eye. In fact, would you believe that Colton is connected to Mount Wilson, "MacArthur Park" and the Chicano movement. Sadly, as it also the case with many cities across Southern California, much of that has been erased in the name of progress.

The city, once called The Hub City, which is wedged between the cities of San Bernardino and Riverside, has an interesting background, and here are seven random fun facts about Colton.

1 - The writer of perhaps one of the most perplexing pop songs, "MacArthur Park," made famous twice, first by Richard Harris and later as a disco hit by Donna Summer, lived in the Colton area for a time once upon a time, and his name is Jimmy Webb. Mr. Webb also wrote "Up, Up and Away" as performed by The Fifth Dimension, along with many other songs. Mr. Webb even wrote a song about Colton, "820 Latham Street," perform by The Fifth Dimension and The Brooklyn Bridge, which is apparently the Colton address where the girl of his dreams (and muse of many songs) lived. Turns out the girl of Mr. Webb's dream from Colton soon moved to L.A. and worked near MacArthur Park, which is where Mr. Webb and the girl from "820 Latham Street" in Colton spent many afternoons together.

"820 Latham Street" as performed by The Fifth Dimension and written by Jimmy Webb.

2 - Once upon a time the community of Agua Mansa, now in modern day Colton and the name of a historic cemetery, was the largest town between Santa Fe and Los Angeles, and was a very important place in the Californio era. One Benjamin Davis Wilson, or Don Benito Wilson as he was known to the Native Americans, and who would go on to become mayor of L.A. and whom Mount Wilson is named after, had his life saved here by Lorenzo Trujillo after Mr. Wilson was involved violent battle with a Native American named Joaquin.

3 - Jimmy Webb was not the only musically famous person to come out of Colton. Jim Messina of Loggins and Messina and The Buffalo Springfield is also from Colton.

4 - Virgil Earp, brother of Wyatt Earp, was Colton's first Marshall. The Earp house still stands at 528 West “H” Street in Colton. Please do not disturb the current residents.

5 - Colton was created by promoters of the Southern Pacific Railroad (known in fiction as, The Octopus, by author Frank Norris), and the name Colton comes from, David Douty Colton, who was the vice president of Southern Pacific Railroad. Southern Pacific intended to make Colton the railroad center of Southern California. Mr. Colton probably made a couple trips to the city named after him, but he lived in San Francisco.

6 - The Chicano movement was, and still is, very strong in Colton. In fact, in clashes with police in 1943 there was even, sadly, a "Colton Zoot Suit Riot." This soon lead to a larger Chicano movement in Colton with protests against the police and demands for better services from the city. The protests were heard, and in the early 1950s a Chicano councilman was elected. By 1979 Colton elected a Chicano mayor and two Chicanos on the City Council, as well as a Chicano school board member. Colton was one of the first cities in Southern California to have such a strong representation of Chicanos in government.

7 - If you have driven through Colton in recent years, or really, for the past 20 years, you may notice it looks nothing like the photograph above. So what happened to Colton's downtown as shown in the photograph above? Well, the short answer is Colton made the decision (or mistake) many cities around the country made, and that was redevelopment. It is way too easy to say today that they should never have bulldozed their downtown, but remember when malls came in vogue that resulted in shoppers and businesses leaving city centers and downtown areas en mass for these new shiny, modern malls. The shoppers and businesses took their dollars with them to these new malls, and many cities, like Colton and even nearby San Bernardino, took the redevelopment route and basically wiped out their old downtown for what was suppose to be a new, modern shopping area that was going to bring business back. In Colton, and San Bernardino, it never quite worked and many long time residents regret the decisions their city leaders made. Some locals and former locals call it, "the development bomb."

Know Your Rights! Can You Legally Avoid Showing Your ID To A Police Officer?

BARSTOW - For many years Johnny Carson had a joke that went something like this: What do you call the bathroom between Los Angeles and Las Vegas? Barstow!

Barstow has been the punchline of many jokes. It seemed in some 1980s sitcoms the characters on the way to Las Vegas often broke down in Barstow.

In the 1990s in the Saved By The Bell wedding episode, where Zack and Kelly finally get married in Las Vegas, Zack, Slater and Screech encounter some problems on the way to Las Vegas with the local police in Barstow locking up the high school pals.

On screen it seems Barstow is a place of bad luck and amusing jokes, but in the last week there has been a very "in real life" event in Barstow, which has brought questions of personal rights when encountering law enforcement.

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A photograph of handcuffs used under a Creative Commons License.

This past week Barstow and its police force were in the national news spotlight when a Barstow Police officer roughed up and arrested a pregnant woman who refused to show the officer her identification.

In our occasional series called, Know Your Rights, the question asked in all this is, can you legally refuse to show a law enforcement officer your identification if the officer asks for it? 

Before we go much further let us announce our legal disclaimer: The information about when you can and cannot show a law enforcement officer your identification is for general information purposes only and should not be taken as any kind of formal legal advice for any individual case or situation. If you find yourself in some legal trouble contact an attorney.

So, Can I Refuse To Show A Police Officer My ID?

The answer is this, if you are in California and you are NOT suspected of a crime you have no obligation to identify yourself. Furthermore, even if law enforcement is conducting an investigation the law enforcement officer cannot simply require you to provide your identification for no reason.

If I Refuse To Show My ID To Police Will I Be Arrested?

The simple answer would be, and should always be, no, and you would not be arrested. However, as many cases have been documented, many people have been arrested simply for refusing to show their identification to law enforcement. If you are arrested for simply refusing to show your identification that is considered to be a wrongful arrest. Again, if you are arrested for this reason alone you should contact an attorney.

What If I Am Outside of California?

Notice the words above, "If you are in California..." That is an important point, because if you are a Southern Californian, or Northern Californian, in another state there are different laws, rules and procedures when it comes to being compelled to show a law enforcement officer your identification. In some states you may be required to show your identification when asked by law enforcement, but not in California.

What Protects My Right In Refusing To Show My ID To Police?

The simply answer to this is, The Fourth Amendment, which states in part, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause..."

So, When Am I Required To Show Police My ID?

There are basically two times you are required to show your identification to law enforcement.

The first, if you are driving and pulled over you are required to show your identification, because, well, law enforcement needs to make sure you are licensed to drive. Remember, as it points out in the Department of Motor Vehicles' California Driver Handbook, driving is a privilege, not a right. Part of that privilege is sometimes when asked you need to show you are a licensed driver.

The second, if you are arrested and booked then you are required show your identification.

The Bottom Line

In California, unless you are behind the wheel driving and pulled over or been arrested, you typically have a right not to show your identification to a law enforcement officer.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Know Your Rights! Can You Legally Avoid Driving Through A DUI Checkpoint?

JUST A LITTLE SOUTH OF FAIRFAX AND SANTA MONICA - It is a Saturday night and for drivers motoring south along Fairfax Avenue (some perhaps to hear their friend's band at Canter's Kibitz Room) they find themselves in a traffic jam. With the emergency lights up ahead it looks like an accident. As the motorist inches closer and maybe hoping to see, but not admit it out-loud, a mangled vehicle the driver sees something different, law enforcement all over the street with bright lights that look like they belong on a sound stage in Burbank or Culver City. It is not an accident, but a D.U.I. checkpoint.

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Stock photograph of a sign informing and warning motorists of a D.U.I. checkpoint up ahead. Used under a Creative Commons license.

In recent years D.U.I. checkpoints have become controversial since some law enforcement departments use them to catch those driving without a license, and those driving without driver's licenses often tend to be immigrants. D.U.I. checkpoints have also been used to stop people, and question and search them, and their vehicle, for things that have nothing to do with drunk driving.

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that police must have a reason to pull you over, and that reason is not always a concrete, "black and white" decision. The Court has given law enforcement a rather large "gray area" when it comes to deciding whether or not to pull a motorist over. D.U.I. checkpoint critics say such checkpoints are simply a way to bypass the Supreme Court's ruling to search somebody without any reason.

D.U.I. checkpoints being used for more than catching drunk and drugged up drivers is a whole other issue, but here, in this new feature called, Know Your Rights, we are going to focus on what your rights are when it comes to wanting to avoid going through D.U.I. checkpoints.

Can You Avoid Going Through D.U.I. Checkpoints?

There is a lot of contention when it comes to D.U.I. checkpoints, but a question a lot of people wonder, "If I see a D.U.I. checkpoint can I turnaround and avoid going throw it?"

The short answer is, yes.

Now before we go forward in explaining this let us make a couple things clear.

Do NOT EVER Drink And Drive, Or Do Drugs And Drive

Drinking and driving is not cool. Way too many innocent people have been injured or killed due to drunk driving. If you know you are going to go out someplace where drinking will be involved make some plans on how you are going to get back home. This may involve taking public transportation, taking a taxi or using a ride sharing service. Or, you may just need to sleep it off in your car. You have a lot of options available to you when you need to sober up. Bottom line, do not ever drink and drive.

Second point, and this is our legal disclaimer, the information about avoiding D.U.I. checkpoints is for general information purposes only and should not be taken as any kind of formal legal advice for any individual case or situation.

So, Can I Turnaround At A DUI Checkpoint?

Yes, if you see a D.U.I. checkpoint up ahead you can turnaround and avoid going through it, if it is safe and legal to turnaround.

What causes a lot of people to be pulled over after turning around from a D.U.I. checkpoint is doing things like performing illegal U-Turns crossing over the double yellow lines. Now if there is a side street open and you safely and legally turn down the side street there should be no reason for you to be pulled over. If you make a legal U-Turn you should be okay. Why? Law enforcement rules prohibit officers from pulling you over for simply legally avoiding a D.U.I. checkpoint.

Keep in mind that if you have something like a taillight out that is cause for pulling you over.

What it comes down to is this, if you can safely and legally turnaround to avoid a D.U.I. checkpoint, and there is nothing wrong with your car, you can avoid going through a D.U.I. checkpoint.

What If There Is A Police Car Sitting On The Side Street?

At the risk of sounding like we are picking on law enforcement, and we are not, if you can safely and legally make a U-Turn or turn onto a side-street sometimes a police car will be parked in the place where you can legally turnaround and get out of going through the D.U.I. checkpoint. These police cars are there to deter, and frankly, intimidate, anybody thinking of avoiding going through the checkpoints. As long as you are not breaking any traffic laws, or other laws, there should be no reason to prevent a motorist from legally avoiding a D.U.I. checkpoint, and thus no reason for the police to pull you over.

Do D.U.I. Checkpoints Violate The Fourth Amendment?

Many people, understandably, think D.U.I. checkpoints are unreasonable search and seizure. However, the California Supreme Court and United States Supreme Court have held that D.U.I. checkpoints are valid and do not violate the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.

In fact, The California Supreme Court in Ingersoll v. Palmer said,

The sobriety checkpoint presents a compelling parallel to the airport screening search. While the label "administrative search" is open to some criticism in application to either the airport search or the sobriety checkpoint stop, both, although they operate mechanically as a search or inspection for the violation of law, actually serve a primary and overriding regulatory purpose of promoting public safety. Their primary purpose is to prevent and deter conduct injurious to persons and property; they are not conventional criminal searches and seizures.

So, no. As it stands now D.U.I. checkpoints do not violate the Fourth Amendment and it is the same as going through airport security.

The Bottom Line Is This...

You can avoid D.U.I. checkpoints as long as you are not breaking any traffic laws and/or have a reason for police to pull you over. Simply legally and lawfully avoiding a D.U.I. checkpoint is typically not reason enough for police to pull you over.

Editor's Note: Know Your Rights is a new feature that will be exploring and explaining all about your rights.

Who Is A Jourmalist?

LOOKING OVER THE PACIFIC OCEAN - Looking over on one side we can report cars zooming about their daily business along Pacific Coast Highway, and looking in the opposite direction we can see the crash of the waves from the Pacific Ocean on the rocks along the cliff, and reporting from this windy scene one wonders, what makes one a journalist?

What follows is a musing that is part, what is a journalist, and part, how to become a journalist (hint: it is not all that difficult and there is no real mystery behind it).

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A question mark with a circle around it. No question about it. This is used under a Creative Commons license.

In an era of news micro-blogs, regional blogs and national blogs the question arises, who is a journalist? Many, not all, of those in the "old media" businesses of television, radio and newspapers have been very quick to say that, "bloggers aren't journalists!"

Well, (and before we go forward let us be clear that we are not addressing or attacking any specific "old media" organization or particular person) let us think about that statement for a second, "bloggers aren't journalists."

When talking about bloggers and journalists the first question to ask is, what makes a journalist a journalist? Are you a journalist if you are apart of a newspaper? Anchoring the five o'clock news reading a teleprompter? Or, typing up a factual, triple fact checked story on your laptop sitting on the tan sands of the beach and publishing it in a blog?

The now defunct, yet briefly successful sister blog to this site, The Southern California News Wire, ran into some resistance as some in the "old media" seemed baffled that somebody being the first to report many crime and fire stories in the middle of Anaheim cannot possibly be a journalist. (Yes, the old News Wire erroneously reported a local high profile television personality was let go from their job. Despite three sources that said it was true it turned out not to be true. To all future bloggers and journalists, mistakes happen and sometimes sources burn you, or these high-up, trusted sources get it wrong. Some in the "old media" ran with this mistake and loudly declared that this is why "bloggers aren't journalists.")

It is one thing when a doctor or nurse says, "reading WebMD doesn't make you a doctor or nurse," but for those who say that "bloggers aren't journalists," well, what gives you the right to say such a statement? 

In America you need special training, and a license to show you really understand that special training, if you want to become a doctor, or lawyer, or a dentist.

In fact, from selling real estate, driving a taxi, cutting hair to flipping burgers, you need some kind of formal government license or permit, be it s municipal and/or state license or permit, to perform those tasks (California requires you to have a food handler card if you flip burgers). Frankly, there are many occupations that may seem like the most mundane job in the world, but require some type of government license or permit for you to do that job.

Our society has done a very good job creating bureaucracy, and sometimes obtaining these licenses and permits all so you can make a honest living can be a very Kafkaesque experience. Despite our government's love for bureaucracy it is interesting that journalism and being a journalist is something you do not need any license or permit to practice. Why, well, a free press is enshrined in the First Amendment of our Constitution. So, really, anybody can be a journalist, but if you want to be taken seriously, or seriously enough, as a journalist, then you need a shred of credibility. Sometimes the best way to find that credibility is putting a blog together and getting your work and name out there in the world. The credibility will come to you.

Many bloggers are not unlike Benjamin Franklin when he owned and operated his newspaper. After all, most blogs are not all that different from the newspapers and broadsheets during and after our country's founding. This is a way of saying, and perhaps arguing, blogs have a historic precedent going back to the 18th Century.

You may be wondering, "What about those reporters who go behind the police tape to report on a story using their press pass?" In most media markets there are press passes, but it is extraordinarily important to stress that those are not formal government licenses or permits to practice journalism, but rather, for lack of a better term, "self-policing" so authorities know you are who you say you are. Now, if you are a blogger (this is where that shred of creditability comes in) you can apply for a press pass. Remember, some bloggers have been granted access to The White House and the political conventions.

Even if the powers that be are not too keen on issuing a blogger a press pass there is nothing to stop the neighborhood blogger from going down to the scene of a crime, talking to some people, officials, turning into the scanner for updated information and taking photographs from behind the police tape with the public. Furthermore, if you already have a blog then you can direct a watch commander or public information officer (PIO) to your blog that shows you are not simply somebody claiming to be a blogger. Unfortunately there are a lot of people who claim to be bloggers, but when push comes to shove (sometimes literally) you can show these powers that be you are the real deal.

In our hyper-tech age most law enforcement and fire agencies already have information on their website and on their social media accounts. A lot of what you see and hear on most television news are mostly rewritten press releases.

If you receive a press release on an incident you can, for example, take it a step further and interview people in the neighborhood and businesses, and get their perspective on what occurred. Perhaps these interviews can lead to something more than what is on the press release. Maybe you will be the blogger that uncovers a major scandal in the neighborhood.

It is one thing to report on a crime, fire or other such disaster, but nothing stops the blogger from being an investigative journalist. Whether you are a journalist working for a major news organization with a name that ends in Times, or a citizen who feels, and perhaps down right knows something is rotten at city hall, you have a right to go through the paperwork and let the world know about it. One of the big tools you have to help you is, The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Sometimes if it is a big enough story that gains national attention the "old media" will contact the blogger for more information and credit them (ask us how we know). 

Sure, there are a lot of journalism programs at universities awarding everything from associate degrees to doctorates that will teach you all about the ways of being a journalist, but, unlike wanting to be a doctor or lawyer, you really do not need any special training to be a journalist. In fact, journalism school as we know it today was mostly a post-war invention. There are only three things you really need to know if you decide to become a blogger/journalist, and that is, "the five W's", the who, what, when, where and why; knowing how to write and communicate well enough; and understanding the rules of libel and slander.

If you do decide to start your own blog it is highly, well, strongly encouraged, you read up a little bit about libel and slander. In many ways libel and slander are journalism's built-in safeguards to make sure the journalist knows what the hell they are doing, and that what is being reported on television, the newspaper or blog is correct.

Pretty much since America's founding the United States Supreme Court (The Court) has mostly clarified and expanded freedoms when it comes to the rights of the press.

Now the one legal gray area bloggers face have typically been at protests, crime scenes, brush fires or other such disasters, where law enforcement orders crowds to disperse, and bloggers are arrested for failing to disperse and not having a proper press pass.

There could be a variety of reasons why bloggers may not have a press pass, but as bloggers show up and attempt to report on a news event this may eventually put The Court in an awkward position.

As bloggers become more prolific and as more people rely on bloggers for their news it is not out of the realm of possibly that just who is, and is not, a journalist may cause a constitutional crisis. 

There may come a day where a blogger is arrested for being at the scene of a major event, and the said blogger goes to court suing for their right to be at the location to report on it as a journalist, and in time the case finds its way to The Court. Well, the awkward position for the Supreme Court may be the day they have to decide if a blogger is a journalist, and IF The Court ever has to decide that question they will essentially be deciding who is a journalist, and who is not a journalist. More to the point, The Court in many respects will be deciding what is, and is not, considered to be the free press.

Are blogs and bloggers protected under The First Amendment? From the "strict constitutionalist" to "the Constitution is an evolving document" crowd all nine Supreme Court justices are going to have a tough time answering this question. In its history even the most conservative Supreme Court has generally been for expanding press rights and not inhibiting the press.

While there have been some in the "old media" who say "bloggers aren't journalists," (all while sourcing blogs and social media during breaking news), as it stands now, and probably for a very long time to come, there are no legalities when it comes to saying who is and is not a journalist. There are no laws against, preventing or prohibiting you from starting a blog that covers your neighborhood, city or county.

As long as your facts and information are correct, and if something is incorrect just correct it and own up to the fact, and there is no issue with libel and slander, there is nothing stopping you from becoming a journalist.

So, to answer the question, anybody can be a journalist.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Keep These Other Earthquake Preparedness Tips In Mind

STRADDLING THE WHITTIER FAULT - For those who come across this online publication that occasionally publishes articles (and should do so more often) about Southern California you know we are very fascinated by the mystery of earthquakes. As much as some of us try to pretend otherwise, earthquakes are apart of the fabric of life in Southern California as Sig-Alerts, high-rent, Disneyland and the ocean. In fact, if you are stuck in the middle of a Sig-Alert right now you may be sitting on top of an earthquake fault-line (like the Whittier Fault that cuts across The Orange Freeway above Brea).

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Major damage to Interstate 5 at Gavin Canyon near the Santa Clarita Valley following the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. Photograph by FEMA and in public domain.

Since the aftermath of the 1994 Northridge Earthquake it has been noted by more than a few people, over at the United States Geological Survey and elsewhere, that things have been a little too quiet. In the last couple years have there been regular, noticeable jolts in the Los Angeles basin. In the past few weeks there have been a few magnitude 3 earthquakes along the Newport-Inglewood Fault, and there has also been some minor shaking going on out in the Inland Empire. That, along with the recent Nepal Earthquake, which is about the size we expect "The Big One" here in Southern California to be, has quite a few people talking, and hopefully they are preparing for next big quake.

In previous posts here we have talked about myths, facts and figures about Southern California earthquakes, but let us give a thought to other forms of earthquake preparedness.

There is a lot written elsewhere about earthquake preparedness and please, please, please take the time to read the information and prepare. Here, we want to present some advice and information that sometimes gets lost in earthquake preparedness.

Much is written about what to do at home or work when Mother Nature starts quaking, but in preparing for "The Big One," or a big enough one, here are some other things to consider when you are preparing.

Getting BACK Home From Work

Much is talked about what to do in the workplace during and after an earthquake, and perhaps your place of business has an emergency plan, but what about getting home after a major earthquake. As plenty of you know commuting to work from, say, San Bernardino to Downtown L.A., is the norm in our part of the world. So, what happens if a big enough earthquake strikes in the middle of the afternoon causing major damage to The San Bernardino, Pomona and Foothill Freeways? How will you get back home? After all, think of those times when there is a major accident, a Sig-Alert, closing a freeway and how badly that backs up traffic, and the ripple affect across the entire freeway system.

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Collapsed portion of The Santa Monica Freeway at La Cienega Blvd. Used under a Creative Commons license. 

For commuters who use public transit, and for those drivers looking at public transit to get back home, it is likely Metrolink, along with the Metro light rail routes and subway, will be shut down for a time so the tracks can be inspected.

So, whether you commute from the Inland Empire to L.A., L.A. to Orange County, or Orange County to the Inland Empire (you get the idea), it is very important to think how you will get back home if there is freeway damage, along with other possible severe damage that could make it near impossible to drive back home right away.

Just as well, what if your car is damaged in the earthquake? What do you do then?

This is why it is extremely important to have an earthquake preparedness kit at work and/or in your car. Even if you live very close to where you work it is important to have a plan how to get back home.

Chances are after a major earthquake you are probably going to want to get in your car and get home to make sure everything is okay, and understandably so. However, it is best to stay where you are at for a time (if it is structurally safe, or go to an open, safe space) listen to the radio, or television if one is available, or gather information online if you can get Internet service, and get information about the earthquake. Once you understand the scope of the earthquake you can begin to plan how to get back home. There may be more of an urgency, and down right understandable panic, if you learn the epicenter is at or near where you live. Again, even if the news reports from where you live sound ominous, you must keep your safety in mind.

Depending on how severe the earthquake is it certainly is possible you may have to spend the night at the office, or you can maybe spend the night at a co-worker's home, or maybe a hotel/motel, if they are not already filled, or damaged. You may have to consider spending the night in your car.

You must also remember, power will likely be out and places where you could buy food and other such things will likely be closed or just simply inoperable. (If the goodwill of people and businesses of past disasters in America are any indication of what to expect it is possible such businesses may just handout food to those stranded, but do not count on it.)

Now, if you live close, or close enough, to work, and there is serve damage you may consider walking home.

So, with Southern California's infamously long commutes you need to think and plan how you will get home following a major earthquake.

There Is Freeway Damage. So, I'll Just Take the Side-Streets

Okay, so you have heard and seen major freeway damage, and so you may think, why not just take the side-streets back home. While a lot of people may think they can take side-streets to get back home you must keep in mind there could be a lot of obstacles in the aftermath of a major earthquake that could make driving side-streets dangerous.

The most obvious will be the power-outage affecting traffic signals, backing up traffic. Furthermore, the streets may have larges cracks in them; power-lines could be down on the streets; shattered glass and other debris may be in the streets; busted water pipes could flood the street; natural gas lines may be broken; and aftershocks could cause further damage.

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Street Damage in the San Fernando Valley following the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. Used under a Creative Commons license. 

This is why it is important to try to be calm at work and hang back at work after the shock, or where ever you may be in the middle of the day, and try to get as much information as possible about the earthquake before making a decision to drive back home.

Most news media, working along with the California Highway Patrol, Metro and other authorities, will try to get you the best information in taking alternative routes back home.

If it is safe to drive back home be prepared to spend several hours in traffic, as those commuters in the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake can attest to. Also, make sure there is gas in your car's gas tank. With power-outages and other possible damage many gas stations will likely be closed.


Even in small earthquakes a lot of people just have the call and/or text asking that question, "Did you feel it?" Chances are if it is a big enough earthquake they probably did.

Emergency planners often said back in the 1980s and 1990s, "Don't use the telephone after a big earthquake unless it's for an emergency." That remains true today, and since you likely want to contact somebody important to you after a big enough earthquake text messaging is the way to go. Communicating by text message will not use much data as opposed to making an actual telephone call, and thus will free telephone lines for emergency and important calls. As much as you may want to contact "everybody" after a major earthquake you should just send text messages to those important to you as even text messages can overload the system.

It is important to remember if there is a massive power-outage following an earthquake, and/or the cell-phone towers are damaged, you may be without telephone and data service. If you really need to get a-hold of somebody you may have to find and kindly ask to use somebody's landline telephone, or find one of those fading relics from the past, a payphone.

Even when cell-phone service does come back coverage may be spotty or non-existent at times. 

Since so many people these days, both at home and work, only have cell/smartphones the city of L.A. recently introduced legislation to retrofit cell-phone towers. This legislation is the first of its kind in the nation.

When To Call 911 or Other Authorities

Even in small earthquakes 911 centers quickly fill with calls. Most, if not all in those calls, are frivolous and tie up the emergency lines. Even in major earthquakes 911 dispatchers are inundated with frivolous calls. In fact, dig around YouTube and you will find audio of such calls following a major earthquake.

Always call 911 if it is a life-threatening emergency. Do not call 911 to ask for information or ask about rumors. It is also best NOT to call 911 if windows on a building are shattered and nobody is hurt. Of course, and please, do check and see to make sure everybody in the home and/or business where the shattered windows occurred are okay. There have been many cases where the 911 system is tied up by people reporting broken windows, but nobody is hurt.

If there is a fire, collapsed building, collapsed freeway, or something that looks to be a threat to public safety and there are no emergency workers on the scene that is when it is best to call 911. When you must call 911 try to give as much detailed information as possible.

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Collapsed apartment building following the 1994 earthquake. Used under a Creative Commons license.

A note about calling the non-emergency dispatch line for certain kinds of information. Before calling a police or fire non-emergency dispatch number make sure the information you seek is already available in the media or social media. Non-emergency dispatchers will likely be doing double duty as 911 dispatchers.

Where Are The Emergency Responders?

If you call 911 for an emergency you may hear the dispatcher say, "We'll get somebody out there as soon as we can," and soon discover it is taking quite awhile for emergency responders to arrive. Emergency planners and organizations across Southern California have stressed that in the aftermath of a major earthquake emergency responders are not going to be able to get to every emergency right away. For many years we have been used to, and down right accustomed to, emergency responders arriving quickly during major emergencies, like brush fires. In the aftermath of a major earthquake it may take awhile for emergency responders to respond to a major emergency.

How You Can Help

This is where you can help. Well before the big quake you should consider participating in your local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). CERT, according to FEMA, "educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area and trains them in basic disaster response skills, such as fire safety, light search and rescue, team organization, and disaster medical operations."

In the immediate aftermath of a major earthquake this is one way you can help your community, and how you can slowly rebuild and try to get things back to normal in your neighborhood.

Don't Forget The Toilet!

As the 2014 La Habra Earthquake showed, it does not take much big shaking for water pipes to be shaken loose and burst. Even when the ground is stable it seems pipes easily burst, as evident of pipes bursting around L.A. in the past several years. A lot of pipes are expected to burst during the next big earthquake, and that may leave you without plumbing, and thus no toilet to flush. So, what can you do to prepare if your plumbing breaks during an earthquake?

Put some plastic trash bags aside in your emergency preparedness kit, and use those.

How to use plastic bags as makeshift toilets? Line the plastic bag along the toilet seat, kind of like you do with the trash can, and there you have a makeshift toilet, which you can later, when needed, move the waste into the trash can.

Social Media

During major news events social media has played an extraordinarily important role in getting information out to people from officials very quickly. At the same time, during major news events, a lot of misinformation has been quickly spread on social media. Most of the time this is information is quickly corrected by officials and/or news media. Of course, there are people on social media who pass false information for the sake of simply doing so, and, on Twitter, it gets retweeted dozens of times. In the aftermath of a major quake such false reports could quickly spread undue panic in an already tense situation (false social media reports have already done just that in past disasters).

If somebody on social media is claiming something major is happening, like, for example, a freeway has collapsed or lots of fires are burning, instead of retweeting it try to send that information to the fire or police/sheriff's department and news media's social media account to see if they can verify it. The bottom line, make sure the information you are reading on social media is correct before sharing it.

This is all assuming you can get back on the Internet after a major earthquake. "The Big One" may very well cause major Internet disruptions that will be a real shock for a lot of people accustomed to always having the Internet available at their fingertips.

Check Your Insurance

Before the next big earthquake, or other disaster, now is the time to check your insurance policy to make sure and confirm what covers what when all goes wrong.

It is very important to understand earthquake insurance is only offered through a state agency, the California Earthquake Authority, and flood insurance is offered through the federal government.

Unfortunately, in the aftermath of disasters we read way too many stories in the news how insurance will not cover certain things for a certain reason.

Earlier we mentioned about your car being possibly damaged in an earthquake. See if an earthquake damaged car is covered by your auto insurance. Some auto insurance companies have "Acts of God" clauses in them, which may, or may not, cover your vehicle should it be damaged or destroyed in an earthquake.

It may be a complicated pain to deal with insurance organizations and their tons of paperwork in that sometimes complicated legal language, but now is the time to go over your policy. Furthermore, now is the time to think, talk over and decide if you need different insurance coverage.

Getting Back To Work

At the top of this list we talked about what plans you should make getting back home from work following a big earthquake. As the aftershocks diminish life will slowly get back to normal, and part of that is getting back to work, but with collapsed freeways that may prove tricky.

Those who remember the 1994 earthquake remember some very long commutes. Even though there was an urgent surge in retrofitting freeways following the 1989 Loma Prieta and 1994 Northridge Earthquakes, in the next major earthquake Southern California emergency planners expect some major freeway damage.

If the Internet is back up and operating as normal you may be able to work from home, depending on what you do. However, if you have to make the commute, well, you may want to think about public transit.

The then fledgling Metrolink received a big, unexpected boost following the 1994 earthquake, and expanded well ahead of schedule.

Now if your place of employment was damaged or destroyed in the earthquake you may have Disaster Unemployment Assistance available to you through the state's Employment Development Department.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is this, the next major earthquake is going to cause a serious or outright major disruption for us, and it may very well change our way of life for a time (just think, the Internet may not be available at your fingertips). However, do understand, and it sounds like a cliché, the better we prepare, the better we will get through this.