Los Angeles is a large city with a population of over 13 million people. It is situated in the U.S. state of California, on the western pacific coast of the United States.
Los Angeles is well known for being earthquake prone. Past events in the historical records have shown many medium earthquakes in the area and a number of large earthquakes such as 1906 earthquake in San Francisco also situated in California. Various geological surveys funded by the government have shown that Los Angeles is situated on the Santa Monica Fault line and close to the San Andreas Fault. A major earthquake can be expected on average every 100 years. The effects of an earthquake are varied. The 1994 earthquake (registering 6.7 on the Richter scale) killed over 60 people through explosions from broken gas pipes, landslides, and the collapse of apartment blocks, houses and highways. People became trapped in high rise buildings as power lines were brought down, and over 500,000 houses were left without power. The attitude of people living in Los Angeles is one of indifference to the threat and that it will not affect them in their lifetime. At a local level there is no will to pay for the improvements required as raising taxes would be political suicide. This is often the case when it comes to dealing with the local city authorities and city mayor.
The response to the earthquake threat has been varied. Large companies sited in the centre of the city have generally found the money to make high rise buildings that can resist the movements and vibrations created by the earthquake. All new high rise buildings are also now resistant. The city government has a number of systems in place to try and cope with the police, fire and health problems created by a large earthquake, and have drawn up action plans. Many public highways have also had to be strengthened or modified. They have also had to fund these projects. The media is responsible for information during the earthquakes as it was in 1994, giving advise and have also drawn up similar action plans on how to cope with the earthquake and keep broadcasting. The gas, water and electricity companies have put in place a number of high tech measures to try and reduce the damage to their supplies in an earthquake but these have been at quite some expense to the consumer.
Los Angeles, according to the meteorological office, has a Mediterranean type climate. It has a yearly drought and closely associated problem with brush fires. The fire service department statistics could be used to show the yearly bush fire risk whilst weather records can be used to show the yearly drought. The attitude of most people is that there should be no limit to the amount of water used, and this attitude has been reflected in the response of the water companies, and the subsequent diverting of the majority of water from the Colorado river before it reaches the sea to supply the city with water.
The growth in population is putting increasing pressure on the limited water supplies. A careless spark from a cigarette or match, or an electrical storm can start a brush fire during the late summer when the vegetation is very dry. Low density residential development in the hills has increased the fire risk, as they are built into the brush country, and many houses are destroyed every year by these fires. The response of the fire service has been to use high pressure water jets, to reduce the fire risk despite the extra demand this puts on the water supply. However more and more people want to live in these suburbs which has prevented the city government from halting this type of development.
Landslides and mudflows are a result of the interactions of many hazards. They can be caused by earthquakes, heavy rain, deforestation and fires, or over urbanisation. They can even be caused by water seepage from domestic supply and usage. The media is probably one of the most reliable forms of evidence for the landslides each year. Landslides and mudflows can destroy houses, as whole hillsides may collapse and if people are in the vicinity, the speed of the event may catch them unaware resulting in injury or even death.
Most people feel that they have little control over the occurrence of landslides, the majority of the responsibility falls on the city government and building companies. It is rare for soil stabilisation to be carried out due to its expense, so mostly this is privately funded. The response of the city government has been to restrict development on steep slopes and other risky areas and have therefore carried out risk analysis of many areas.
Flooding is a hazard occurring in the winter especially during heavy rains and storms. Deforestation, brush fires and urbanisation have tended to exacerbate the problem by reducing interception and percolation and increasing surface run-off Houses and any other structures on the flood plains are at most risk and can be carried all the way out to sea in severe storms. Loss of life is not usually high although eight people were killed in 1992. The problem is similar to that experienced with the brush fires, in that people want to live on the flood plains where risk is at its highest. The land which is flooded is economically very valuable and therefore the state government has launched a number of schemes to reduce the risk. A number of large dams have been built to try and hold back the water but only limited success has resulted, and many stretches of river have been enclosed in reinforced levees.
Air pollution is a major hazard in Los Angeles. The smog that occurs is a result of a combination of a number of factors. The various forms of pollution from vehicles, industry and power stations becomes trapped in the lower atmosphere due to the occurrence of a temperature inversion. This is a phenomenon which occurs during the summer months prevents mixing of the upper and lower atmosphere trapping the pollutants. The pollution consists of nitrogen oxides, ozone, sulphur dioxide, hydrocarbons and various other gases, brush fires can add even more pollution to the atmosphere. The pollution exacerbates breathing problems such as asthma and causes a huge increase in the number of breathing associated admissions to casualty and may even result death in very sensitive or unwell people. City dwellers often become upset by the high level of pollution due to the risk to health that it poses, however most people are also unwilling to give up their car to help reduce pollution. The response of the city government is to impose restrictions on emissions by industry and cars, but many of the large companies fear impact on their profits and therefore prevent any effective cuts from being made. Overall it seems as though the political will to make a difference is not there.
There are also a number of hazards in the human environment. The most obvious of these is the high crime rate. Police statistics are the most useful source of
information and a very reliable, media programmes often provide information about crime rate but they are much more likely to show bias. They often link crime with drug trafficking and poverty, both of which are also human hazards, . These hazards are not spread equally amongst the community. An area of Los Angeles known as Watts has high proportion of people living below the poverty line at 28% (Geography: An integrated approach 2000) and a high portion of people classed as Afro-American or Hispanic at 89%. The high poverty leads to poor standards of living and relatively few people have a chance to go on to further education. The local authorities say they are attempting to help the community but they feel the people must do more to help themselves.
They even threaten withdrawing welfare payments after two years without work. Residents often believe that they are being targeted for this bad treatment because they are from racial minorities and this creates friction between them and the police especially after allegations of heavy-handed policing. With few opportunities for jobs many young people tend to drift into crime leading to high crime rates in these poorer areas and in Los Angeles as a whole. The response of the local authorities to this has been strict penalties such as prison sentences and boot camps, even for relatively minor offences such a shop lifting. This however has made many residents resent the police to an even greater extent therefore increasing the likelihood of riots, and has not addressed the heart of the problem. The danger posed by these riots and the possible damage to property as in the Rodney King riots are also major hazards.
Finally as with most large cities there is the hazard of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as HIV and other infectious diseases such as Tuberculosis (TB)and influenza (flu) due to the high density of population. The health authority has accurate records of the extent of these problems. TB and flu are becoming major problems as TB is highly infectious and is becoming more difficult to treat as is has developed resistance to antibiotics.
It is responsible for many hundreds of deaths especially in the poorer areas that have limited access to medical care. HIV is also becoming more prevalent as it can remain undetected for years by which time many other people could become infected, There is no effective treatment and the death toll rises every year. The response of the national government to STDs has been to educate the young on the importance of contraception as a preventative measure, but still many people do not know how it is transmitted. In the case of TB poor living conditions, especially damp housing makes people more susceptible to infection. The approach to the TB problem has been to vaccinate people where possible, whereas with flu only those most at risk such as the young and elderly are vaccinated. The response of people is often to avoid the poorer areas. However immigrants are rarely vaccinated and therefore infection may still be able to spread in the wider community.