Talks with Tim is a weekly Q&A by Tim Grobaty, who has been a columnist in Long Beach for nearly 50 years. If you’d like to suggest an interesting or influential person in Long Beach for this (unconventional) interview, reach him at [email protected].
Reginald “Reggie” Harrison is the Director of the Long Beach Department of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Communications. In his 27 years in Long Beach he served as deputy city manager, housing authority bureau manager, economic development bureau manager, acting director of the community development department, acting director of the planning and building department, and acting director of Long Beach Airport.
Tim Grobaty: So, what are we worrying about today?
Reggie Harrison: I spend a great deal of my day watching newscasts, looking at what’s happening in the United States. In my role as director of disaster preparedness, I’m always looking at mass shootings, civil unrest, weather conditions. I’m always maintaining situational awareness of things that could affect Long Beach.
Q: Do you have trouble sleeping at night?
A: Of course I do, considering my job.There are restless nights. But the next day you go in and make improvements.
Q: Tsunamis. Are we really sort of expecting one? How far down on my list of things to worry about is a tsunami?
A: It’s a low-risk but high impact sort of event. We’re on the Pacific Rim so certainly a tsunami could occur. We work with residents in the coastal area that could be impacted. In March we have Tsunami Awareness Week. We had a program at the Aquarium of the Pacific about what causes them and what residents should do. Unlike an earthquake, they do give warnings about tsunamis. Move as quickly as you can to higher ground by any means you can. For every disaster there is an appropriate response. For a quake you need to get shelter to protect yourself from falling debris. Get under anything sturdy like a table or desk.
Q: I always just run out into the street.
A: That’s where you can get hit on the head by falling debris.
Q: I don’t care. That’s what I will always do.
A: That’s what people’s tendency to do is. It’s the adrenalin starting to flow, the fight or flight impulse. That’s been the survival mechanism through the ages.
Q: Here’s another thing. I’ve assured my family and coworkers that we’re not going to have a big earthquake. Experts have been threatening and scaring us about the Big One for 70 years and all we get are dire predictions and disaster movies. I’m tired of it.
A: We have thousands of quakes every year. Luckily, they’re usually not of the magnitude that you can feel it, but a major earthquake is the most probable disaster for Long Beach. We have a number of fault lines that criss-cross Southern California. So we’re always urging people to prepare for a quake. The good thing about preparing for a quake is that it also prepares you for any number of other disasters.
Q: What’s that movie that was crazily horrific about a big earthquake in LA?
A: “San Andreas.” With The Rock, Dwayne Johnson. Yeah, that’s not gonna happen. I like disaster movies for entertainment, but there’s very little truth to them.
Q: Do you have a favorite movie?
A: My all-time favorite that I’ve watched over and over is “Stand By Me.”
Q: That’s not a disaster movie…
A: No, but the reason I like it is because it reminds me of my childhood growing up in South Carolina. Me and my buddies had freedom every day; the woods, the lagoons, the bonding that you saw between the boys. In the movie they were looking for a dead body. We didn’t do that, but we explored underground caves and just the closeness we all had. At the end of the movie the narrator says, “I have never had friends like I had growing up.”
Q: How did you wind up in Long Beach government?
A: I came out to San Diego in 1987 and worked for the Housing Authority, then I moved to Carlsbad in the Housing Authority, then I got a call from Susan Shick who was redevelopment director and I’ve been in Long Beach now for 27 years. I’ve had a very rewarding career here. I’ve lost track of how many council members I’ve worked with. In fact, I’ve lost track of how many positions I’ve had.
Q: About 35 years ago I did a story about a Nike missile silo that had been retrofitted to serve as a place for city council members to live following a disaster. It had bunk beds and food and communications. It’s been filled with concrete now but is there any plan to stash our city leaders anywhere during a disaster?
A: We have a continuity of government plan to ensure services continue in the event of a disaster, but it doesn’t include an underground safe house.
Q: Before we forget, let’s talk about climate change in terms of disasters hitting Long Beach.
A: Climate change is huge. July was the hottest July in the world in recorded history. June was the hottest month before that. We’re bracing for what’s going to happen in August. We had a tornado in Montebello, that’s not a common occurrence in Southern California. We’ve always had cooling centers, now we’re looking at activating warming centers for colder winters. We’re not immune in Long Beach. You look at sea level rise, extreme heat, cold, rain. We have low-lying areas in Long Beach that flood. We have a winter storm team to keep an eye on what’s going on at the beaches. Public Works has to make sure storm outlets stay clear, the Marine Department continues to be up and protecting the coastline by building berms.
Q: Would you buy a home on the Peninsula or in Naples right now?
A: Yes! If I could afford one. We’ve built homes to safety codes and they’re protected by the berms. Yes, they’re in areas that are susceptible, but, yes, give me the money and I would move there tomorrow.