Emergencies and Threats

The City of San Marino is prone to 12 of 16 possible federally-identified natural and man-made threats. Our region is particularly vulnerable to the destructive affects wildfires, flooding, mudslides and earthquakes. Because of the many threats that our regions faces, the importance of readiness as a city and for residents cannot be overstated. Part of disaster preparedness is being aware of the kinds of hazards and disasters you might be subject to living in as the Los Angeles Region and as a San Marino resident. Here’s a list.


The Federal Emergency Management Agency places California in the “very high risk” category for earthquakes. In fact, California experiences the most frequent damaging earthquakes; however, Alaska experiences the greatest number of large earthquakes —most of which are located in uninhabited areas. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is the leading agency that provides the public and policymakers with a clear understanding of natural hazards and provides comprehensive real-time earthquake monitoring.

The many fault systems running throughout the Southern California area can lead to earthquakes of all types and sizes.

  • Southern California has about 10,000 earthquakes each year, though most are so small that they are never felt.
  • Large earthquakes create an aftershock sequence that can produce additional earthquakes for many months.
  • Earthquakes can occur in cold, hot, rainy or dry weather; there is no such thing as “earthquake weather.”
  • The San Andreas Fault zone stretches for 800 miles.
  • Most earthquakes occur less than 50 miles below the Earth’s surface.
  • Only four states - Florida, Iowa, North Dakota and Wisconsin - have not had earthquakes in the past 30 years.


Fire is extremely powerful. In less than 30 seconds, small flames can race out of control, with temperatures reaching 600 degrees. The heat and poisonous gases from fires can be more deadly than the flames. Here in the Southern California area, wildfires, as well as residential or structural fires, are part of our everyday lives. Although fires are much less frequent in the City of San Marino, we still have the potential.  That’s why it’s important to have a familiar plan, in case a fire should occur.

Residential fires are the third-leading cause of accidental death in the home, with yearly property losses reaching billions of dollars. Cooking, careless smoking, arson and faulty heating are often the cause of fires in the home.  The likelihood of fire-related deaths and damage can be avoided with a proper smoke alarm system or residential sprinklers. Check the smoke alarms in your home every few months to make sure they are working properly, and change the batteries every time you reset your clocks at in the Spring and Fall.

One of the most important functions for the San Marino Fire Department is fire prevention. This includes both enforcement and education programs. The San Marino Firefighters and Inspector work with business owners and homeowners that are remodeling or building new homes to ensure that the Fire Code is followed.

Unpredictable wind conditions in the Southern California area can cause dense brush and dry hillsides and canyons to burst quickly into flames, starting deadly wildfires that are also known as brush fires. These fires can move at incredible speeds and their heat can quickly rise to thousands of degrees. One of the best ways to keep these fires a safe distance from your home is to make sure that nearby brush is cleared away, according to our City’s regulations. Each year, fire kills more Americans than all other natural disasters combined.

  • Careless smoking is the leading cause of fire-related deaths.
  • Cooking is the major cause of home fires in the U.S.
  • Nationally about 2 million fires are reported each year.
  • Wildfires are most common in the summer, fall and during droughts when branches, leaves and other materials dry out, leaving them susceptible to catching fire.

Severe Weather and Flooding

Southern California is a semi-desert area of mountains, canyons, ravines and vast basins. This can create problems when major thunderstorms, high winds and other bad weather strike. Flooding can quickly occur in the mountain passes and valleys, and mudslides are common on hillsides with very little vegetation. Southern California’s dry rivers, creek beds and deep slot canyons can be especially dangerous for those caught by a rapidly moving flash flood.  Fortunately, our risk for flooding in San Marino is low. 

  • Floods can occur at any time, though many happen after heavy spring rains, tropical storms and the melting of winter snow.
  • Just six inches of rapidly moving flood water can knock a person down. It only takes two feet of water to float a large vehicle.
  • Floods can be slow or fast rising but most develop over a period of days.
  • Mudslides can easily travel faster than 10 miles per hour
  • Flash floods can turn a calm landscape into a raging river in a matter of minutes.
  • Most flash floods are caused by slow-moving thunderstorms, hurricanes or tropical storms, but also by dam or levee failures.
  • Flash floods can move boulders, rip out trees, knock down bridges and destroy buildings.
  • Walls of water, often filled with debris, can reach up to 20 feet.
  • If you receive a warning or are caught in a flash flood, move immediately to higher ground.

Extreme Heat

The blazing sun can become incredibly hot in Southern California, especially during summer days. Even indoors, temperatures can be just as uncomfortable if you don't have air conditioning or strong fans blowing cool air. For most of us, it’s unpleasant. For others, it can be deadly.

  • Approximately 400 people die in the U.S. each year from weather-related heat, and many more die from health conditions made worse by the rising temperatures.
  • Those at greatest risk for heat-related illness include infants and small children, the elderly, people who are overweight and those who take certain medications.
  • During hot weather, people should drink a lot of liquid – up to four 16-ounce glasses per hour if exercising in the heat.
  • Drinking alcoholic beverages in unusually hot weather can lead to heat-related illnesses.

Extreme Cold

Heavy snowfall and extreme cold can immobilize an entire region. Even areas that normally experience mild winters can be hit with a major snowstorm or freezing temperatures. Winter storms can result in flooding, storm surge, closed highways, blocked roads and downed power lines. Weather of this nature can also cause hypothermia. While Southern California is usually warm and sunny, temperatures in our nearby mountains and even the deserts can drop dramatically. Without proper heating, some homes within the city can become dangerously cold in the winter, especially for the ill and elderly. When it comes to cold weather, below are some quick facts that will keep you informed and prepared:

  • Extreme cold can cause the body’s temperature to lower dramatically, causing hypothermia and even death. Stay warm with extra clothing and blankets.
  • Space heaters can cause fires during winter and should be kept at least three feet from drapes and furniture.
  • Areas with the mildest winters normally have higher death rates from cold than those with colder winters, primarily because people do not prepare properly and they have poor information.


General erosion, heavy rains and other factors help to cause landslides. Most common during severe storms, earthquakes, volcanoes and wildfires, landslides can cause injury or even death. Debris and mud flows, (which are rivers of rock, earth and other debris saturated with water) can occur following heavy rain. They develop when water rapidly accumulates in the ground, during heavy rainfall or rapid snowmelt, changing the earth into a flowing river of mud or “slurry,” a thick fluid that often results from such conditions. They can flow rapidly, striking with little or no warning at avalanche speeds. The ground moves very quickly during a landslide. Even if it’s not directly underneath or above you, it can quickly affect any area close by. They also can travel several miles from their source, growing in size as they pick up trees, boulders, cars, and other materials.  Our risk for landslides in the City of San Marino is low.

  • Landslides occur in all 50 states of the U.S., though the most common areas are those with mountainous terrain such as California.
  • Landslides in this country result in costs of more than $4 billion annually.
  • Between 25 and 50 people are killed by landslides in the U.S. each year.
  • Landslides cause tremendous damage to the natural environment and also impact agricultural productivity.
  • One of Southern California’s best-known landslides in recent history occurred on March 4, 1995, in La Conchita, California, along the Ventura County coast.
  • Landslides can be activated by human factors such as deforestation (removal of trees and vegetations), poor irrigation, water leakage from utilities, mining activities, improper excavation of a slope and hillside construction, among others.


A tornado can destroy an entire neighborhood in a matter of seconds. Its spinning, funnel-shaped cloud extends up from the ground with winds that can flatten houses, commercial buildings and telephone lines. While tornados are most like to occur in southern states, they can occur in California. The last reported tornado to hit California occurred in 2004 in Inglewood, CA. It ripped off a roof, snapped trees and damaged vehicles.

  • Whirling tornado winds can reach 300 miles per hour.
  • The storm’s path of damage can extend one mile wide and up to 50 miles long.
  • Tornados normally appear near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm, so it is not unusual to see clear blue skies behind a tornado.
  • Tornados known as waterspouts can form over large bodies of water.
  • Peak tornado season is from March through May in the southern states, and from late spring to early summer in the northern states.


Terrorism is the use of force or violence against persons or property in violation of the criminal laws of the United States. The purpose of these acts are typically intimidation, coercion or ransom. Terrorists often use threats to:

  • Create fear among the public
  • Try to convince citizens that their government is powerless to prevent the violence
  • Get immediate publicity for their causes

Acts of terrorism can manifest themselves in the form of assassinations, kidnappings, hijackings, bomb scares and bombings, cyber attacks (computer-based crimes), the use of chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological weapons and threats of terrorism itself.

Effective April 2011, the National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS), replaced the color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS). This new system will more effectively communicate information about terrorist threats by providing timely, detailed information to the public, government agencies, first responders, the private sector and airports and other transportation hubs.

The NTAS recognizes that Americans all share responsibility for the nation's security, and should always be aware of the heightened risk of a terrorist attack in the United States and what they should do.

The new alert system starts with the premise that the U.S. is at an elevated risk for attack. If intelligence officials determine that the threat rises above that baseline, the public will be notified that there is an elevated risk of attack using Facebook, Twitter or through email subscriber alerts.

Register for alerts and get more information about how this new system will operate at www.dhs.gov/files/programs/ntas.shtm. There you will also find:

  • NTAS Public Guide
  • NTAS Frequently Asked Questions
  • Sample NTAS Alert

Public Health

Public health threats are events and disasters that spread in communities through the air, water supply and food chain and can also spread following human and animal contact. Public health threats are caused by disease outbreaks, natural disasters, hazardous accidents and terrorist attacks.

There are also many things in our environment that can be harmful such as chemicals, fumes, viruses and bacteria. However, when these substances reach a threshold considered unsafe, they become urgent public health threats. In these cases, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health will issue an advisory instructing residents of steps and precautions they can take to protect their health and safety. Visit their site at www.publichealth.lacounty.gov.

Chemical Emergencies

Hazardous materials can be found in our homes, and in some business. They are routinely transported by trucks on local streets and highways. Consequently, there is always the possibility of an accident occurring. When accidents or small hazardous spills occur on our highways, these incidents can cause the public traffic delays. In the event of a major spill resulting in a chemical emergency, the Fire Department will instruct you on the best course of action. When incidents occur in the home, call 911 and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has a Poison Control Hotline at (800) 222-1222 if you have specific questions about hazardous substances in the home.