Major quake could sideline 60 percent of SoCal hospitals
A 2011 earthquake survey, which scores of Southern California hospitals declined to answer, had its start with a landmark study of the potential damage wrought by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake on the southern San Andreas Fault near the Salton Sea.
The study brought to life how that quake would topple high-rise buildings in downtown Los Angeles, Costa Mesa and San Bernardino, ignite massive fires, smash freeways and dams, cut off electricity to millions and force 270,000 people from their homes.
It would kill nearly 1,800 people in and injure 50,000 others so severely that they would require emergency care.
Yet many hospitals that could treat them would be damaged beyond repair, crippled by collapsed walls, downed power lines, broken pipes and shattered equipment.
The specter of a fractured health care system is a major theme throughout the 2008 study, “The Shakeout Scenario,” produced by the U.S. Geological Survey and 300 scientific experts. Its lead author was Lucy Jones, the well-known USGS scientist based in the Los Angeles area.
More than 60 percent of hospital buildings would be damaged beyond repair and unable to function in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, the report states.
More than 85 percent of the buildings would suffer significant damage to non-structural systems such as generators, fuel tanks, water pipes and tanks, even medical gas piping.
Electrical power would be lost for at least 24 to 72 hours. Drinking water would be scarce or unavailable. Broken water pipes could flood patient rooms.
That scenario stirred deep concern in Southern California, Sacramento and Washington. It became the foundation of the region’s most ambitious earthquake preparedness plan, the 2010 Southern California Catastrophic Response Plan, spearheaded by federal and state emergency agencies (click here to download PDF).
Just months later, government officials sent out the survey to 200 hospitals in the region in what they called “pre-planning” for a major earthquake.
Nearly half those hospitals did not respond, halting the survey. Now officials hope to try again in 2013.