With a monster El Niño system predicted for this winter, Los Angeles Unified crews are hustling to fix roofs, stockpile supplies and storm-proof campuses as it braces for problems that strong storms could bring.
Nearly $5 million is being spent to accelerate roof replacements at 10 schools, while other campuses are being inspected for places where water could drip, creep or seep in. Facilities crews have been clearing storm drains and rain gutters, trimming trees and stockpiling brooms, mops, trash cans and portable fans. The division is also pre-deploying portable sump pumps, generators and sandbags to sites across the District, to help minimize response times when – not if – a storm hits.
While that work has been going on for weeks, Facilities Chief Mark Hovatter has been collaborating with the District’s Office of Emergency Services, Office of Environmental Health and Safety, and the School Police Department on an El Niño action plan. It is slated to be presented to the school board by mid-November.
“We are proactively preparing to ensure the safety of our students during El Niño,” Hovatter said. “For this reason, we have completed an inventory assessment of our schools to identify potential repairs and improvements. Our plan will address possible scenarios including extraordinary weather such as heavy and unrelenting rains.”
Dr. Jill Barnes, who oversees the Office of Emergency Services, said principals at the District’s 1,000-plus campuses have been told to review their Safe School Plan. That document is updated annually and includes strategies for emergency preparedness.
In addition, top district administrators recently held a “table-top exercise” on how to respond to an emergency and will be holding another in the coming weeks geared specifically to El Niño. Barnes also is talking with federal, county and city agencies to determine the best way to coordinate when the call for help goes out. A website has been created so the public can get up-to-date information.
Climatologists say there is a 95 percent chance of an El Nino pattern, which is caused by warm ocean currents that release heat into the atmosphere, resulting in frequent and intense winter storms. The system developing in the Pacific is an especially strong one – it’s three times the size of the continental U.S. – and could bring as much as three feet of precipitation to coastal areas of Southern California.
And it’s the variability of the El Niño that makes it so difficult to prepare for, District officials say. For instance, a storm that knocks out power to a neighborhood school may affect Food Services, as well as Facilities. A flooded freeway means that Transportation might have to divert its buses, while a flooded classroom may have a principal looking for unused space.
And in every instance, Operations and School Police are at work to ensure that students are safe and parents are aware of what’s happening.
“We’re all in this together,” Barnes said. “It’s important that we are proactive in dealing with the potential impacts. It’s easier to get a response in place before it hits than to respond as it hits.”