LOS ANGELES – El Nino has returned with a vengeance. Over the last week, back-to-back storm systems have hit southern California. The National Weather Service is predicting a third storm in the area, describing it as the “biggest storm of the season.”
The already saturated conditions, along with the additional forecasted rainfall, indicate Los Angeles River channels will be flowing at full capacity and may overtop.
Although there is a levee control location along Interstate 105 to help alleviate overtopping of the channels, the water will reach a 45-foot gap around the Union Pacific Bridge first. This will cause flooding to residences, as well as commercial and public properties in the cities of Compton, Cudahy, East Rancho Dominguez, Lynwood, South Gate and Willowbrook.
That was the beginning of a simulated scenario given to more than 45 local, state and federal representatives charged with emergency operations in the event of a catastrophic flood along the LA River during a flood-risk tabletop exercise June 21 at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works.
Representatives from the various agencies broke into five different groups to discuss how they would respond to the situation, communicate the dangers and evacuate communities as the simulated event escalated.
As flood conditions worsened through six different phases, the groups shared their knowledge and coordinated responses to questions like, “what immediate actions are being taken,” “what interagency information and coordination is needed” and “is an evacuation being considered.” They also were asked if any flood-fighting activities, including preparation, personnel, supplies and equipment, were occurring during each phase.
The purpose of the exercise was to share knowledge, identify roles and responsibilities, and validate the Los Angeles County Emergency Action Plan in response to a levee incident along the Los Angeles River, said Kristen Bedolla, Levee Safety program manager with the Dam and Levee Safety section, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District.
During the initial planning phases in March, Bedolla said she was met with enthusiasm and support from other representatives with the Corps and LA County. Several members of the Los Angeles Office of Emergency Management, as well as the California Silver Jackets joined in the planning effort.
The California Silver Jackets program is led by the California Department of Water Resources and supported by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The purpose of the program is to bring together federal, state, regional and local agencies to focus on the state's priorities for flood-risk management and is designed to improve coordination, collaboration and communication among disaster-response agencies at all levels of government before a disaster strikes in an effort to accelerate recovery afterwards.
Bedolla referred to the flood-risk tabletop exercise as “an amazing team effort,” with the results exceeding her expectations.
“The discussions were very informative and will greatly improve emergency response efforts and coordination between agencies,” she said.
Steven Frasher, public information officer with LA County Department of Public Works and a participant in the exercise, described it as a very valuable exercise and an opportunity to meet operational contacts at other agencies before the critical need arises.
“The exercise demonstrated the importance of agencies sharing their expertise to maximize effectiveness in a critical incident,” Frasher said. “From a communications standpoint, the fast-developing scenario emphasized the importance of advance awareness education through community outreach and media relationships, so residents have forewarning of what to expect and how to respond, before a critical incident escalates.”
Participants in the exercise included representatives with the Corps, LA Department of Public Works, California Department of Transportation, California Department of Water Resources, LA County Office of Emergency Management, LA County Fire Department, American Red Cross, City of Cudahy, City of Compton and law enforcement officers with the LA County Sheriff’s Department and California Highway Patrol.
The next joint flood-risk tabletop exercise with the Corps, LA County and the state will be in September. The tabletop exercise will simulate flooding along the San Gabriel River, downstream of Whittier Narrows Dam. It is a densely populated and urbanized area, where levees provide flood-risk management for about 200,000 people and more than $20 billion in property.