Inside Seven
Current Issue: September 2014
(L to R) Construction Chief Ghassan Dagher, Maintenance Chief Hector Obeso, Construction Engineering Management Chief Fekade Mesfin and Telecommunication Engineer Reza Farahmand begin gathering information for Operations.

by  Judy Gish
Issue Date: 12/2008

District 7 first responders prepare to rescue the freeways from a giant earthquake.

While the rest of Los Angeles County pretended to reel from a simulated 7.8 magnitude earthquake on November 13 (an excercise known as the Great Southern California ShakeOut), Caltrans emergency responders worked tirelessly at the Golden Guardian 2008 exercises to assess and repair damage to freeways and to keep information flowing to the public and other government agencies.

The Golden Guardian program is a division of the California Department of Homeland Security. Its purpose is to assess the State Emergency and Catastrophic plans, Continuity of Operations Plan, and the Continuity of Government Plan, including managing response and recovery operations, emergency training programs, and the state’s ability to coordinate emergency response efforts.

The annual exercise focuses on various disaster scenarios which have included terrorist attacks in different parts of the state as well as a dirty bomb at the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach, a train derailment and toxic spill in Ventura County and a hijacking scenario at Bay Area airports.
This year, it was the Big One in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. Minutes after the shaking (would have) stopped, representatives from several Caltrans divisions crawled out from under their desks and assembled at an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) located at the Los Angeles Regional Transportation Management Center (LARTMC), beginning to restore function to the broken district.

Major players at the EOC were: Dan Freeman, Management; Frank Quon, Planning/Intelligence; Fekade Mesfin, Operations; Carolyn Pennington, Logistics; Susan Harris, Finance; and Deborah Harris, Public Information. The following takes place from 10 a.m. to noon (tick tock, tick tock, tick tock):

10:40 a.m.: EOC Director Dan Freeman instructs staff to begin notifications, assess the situation and determine a recovery strategy. Caltrans liaisons are deployed to the Los Angeles County and the City of Los Angeles EOCs.

10:44: Headquarters EOC is notified that District 7 is open and assessing the situation.

10:50: EOC receives the first radio report—I-5 “Grapevine” possibly closed due to landslides and I-210 at SR-2 has structural damage in both directions with local police operating a detour. Also, the SR-118 Balboa Bridge collapsed and the route is closed in both directions.

11:00: With landlines and cell phones inoperable, Maintenance regions are contacted via microwave phone and 800 megahertz radio.

11:05: Several significant aftershocks have occurred. Preliminary reports indicate that I-5 is closed in the City of Commerce, an over-crossing might have crashed, closing I-210 between I-605 and SR-57, and major accidents have closed I-210 in the City of Arcadia and I-405 at I-5.

11:25: Headquarters EOC is notified of initial damage reports and contact is made with Districts 8 and 12. District 8’s green phone is down as well as Caltrans’ and the California Highway Patrol’s (CHP) radios. Satellite phones are available as back-up.

11:40: Freeman calls for a status briefing. Planning/Intelligence is still in the information gathering phase; Traffic Management Teams have been mobilized. Operations has contacted all Maintenance regions, which have begun damage assessments, with Construction personnel, as well as all current contractors, on stand-by. Maintenance Structures and Investigations have mobilized 11 teams to begin inspections. Ten structures on I-10 are believed to be particularly vulnerable. Logistics reports that the District Office is currently being inspected, focusing on utility issues. Finance is releasing procedures to track employee time and resources and states that project control is available to issue Emergency Expenditure Authorizations.

11:50: A major accident (100 vehicles) on SR-170 at North Hollywood is reported.

11:51: An unconfirmed report of a bridge collapse at the U.S. 101/I-405 Interchange is received.

11:55: Freeman sets initial goals: Manage incident by collecting information and assessing impacts; dispatch response and assessment teams; restore functionality to freeway system; assist locals when possible.

12:00: Maintenance North Region reports various landslides on I-5 between Templin Highway and the Grapevine. Cell phones and landlines are back up. SR-118 is closed at Ruffner Avenue.

All this and the day is not even half over. Highlights of the rest of the day include:
Deployment of Operational Area Satellite Information System (OASIS) trailers, which provide 24 banks of telephone lines using a satellite system and 24 electronic connections for computer equipment, including laptops; more freeway structural damage, closures and accidents; a ruptured gas line in Long beach; a breach of the California Aqueduct near Palmdale; Van Nuys Airport, Palmdale Airport and Ontario Airport are closed, along with the Los Angeles Harbor, while LAX, with three out of four runways open, is diverting flights to Las Vegas and San Francisco. Additionally, several more aftershocks are felt during the afternoon.

Meanwhile, despite some visible structural damage, broken glass, power outages, and minor injuries (bumps, bruises, and scratches), the District Office and staff withstood the earthquake fairly well. Due to the lack of functioning rest rooms, however, it is recommended that staff be sent home.

As Day 1 ends, the team discusses successes and areas for improvement, including more support for field staff, better maps and more bulletin boards.

Day 2 starts with a shift change. Hector Obeso directs the EOC, Mark Archuleta handles Operations and Dave White is the Public Information Officer. This day brings even more disasters, the resolution of some problems, and lingering issues that continue to cripple the city. Major events include: more aftershocks; rumor control; and the addition of 20 Caltrans engineers who are flown into Dodger Stadium by the National Guard. An exhausted team evaluates the exercise, finding that it was a good learning experience and that the District’s EOC was fully engaged. Also, good teamwork was reported.

Special thanks to exercise coordinators Alphonso Sanchez and Richard Gordon of Maintenance, Radio Technician Reza Farahmand, EOC Room Coordinator Larry Ornay and EOC Computer Technician Richard Hung.


Kwan Lam, Structure Maintenance and Investigations, helps to assess structural damage. (L to R) Roy Fisher, Structures Construction, Frank Quon, Operations Deputy, Mike Francis,  Structures Construction, and Bill Rutledge, Maintenance Support, go over various documents. Maintenance Design Chief Allan Tanjuaquio will report his findings to the group. Maintenance Deputy and EOC Manager Dan Freeman takes in new information.