In Partnership with 74

LA Unified in final preparations for approaching El Niño

Mike Szymanski | November 20, 2015

Your donation will help us produce journalism like this. Please give today.

ElNinoSchoolFloodAnd now for the weather forecast:

More than $17 million in roof repairs still need to be completed at LAUSD schools before El Niño arrives in January.

The district also needs to replace aging equipment at the Emergency Operations Center at a cost of $225,000 a year, and it will cost about $5 per student to keep emergency supplies in good condition each year—that’s another $3.5 million.

A simple one-time spend of $56,000 could get a weather alert radio for every school.

Those wether-related needs all came from the district’s Emergency Services and Facilities Services divisions in a presentation this week to the Successful School Climate Committee. Officials said they expect the second worst storm system to hit the area since they tracked El Niño storms.

Deputy superintendent Michelle King introduced the report to the committee as a “timely presentation about El Niño, what it is, and why we should be worried.” After hearing some of the plans and what needed to be done, she suggested that one of the top priorities would be to get the weather alert radios in every school.

Jill Barnes, of LA Unified’s school operations emergency services, said, “It’s hard to imagine in a few months we will be in large deluge of rain. We know that it’s on track to be second largest since recording them in 1950.”

The district has already identified schools that may encounter problems because they are near potential landslide areas or in areas that flood easily. Plans are underway to move some schools to different locations in severe weather.

Board member Mónica García, chair of the committee, said, “Some resources are needed right now, we can’t wait; how do we address what is before us?” She recalled the recent recession and pointed out that “we have stopped investing in a lot of these strategies because we lost $2.7 billion and asked everyone to do with less.”

The good news is that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration just designated LASUD as tsunami-ready, pointing out that the district has taken its preparations further than other school districts.


Among the changes:

  • Every student who uses a ventilator to breathe has been provided a generator in case power goes out.
  • Every student who uses wheelchairs in multi-story schools has an Evac Chair.
  • Every school site and 11 LAUSD departments submitted their written emergency plans, which are being reviewed.
  • Families will be notified by phone and email for weather issues and flooding, and whether students should go to alternative sites for school.

The district has even set up an El Niño website:ño

Roger Finstad, LAUSD’s director of Maintenance and Operations, said every school now has a plant manager, who is checking clogged drains, making sure power generators are fueled and stocking up sandbags where needed.

He said that 20 roofing projects were completed over the last two years, and in 2016 another 23 projects are scheduled for completion at a cost of $15.7 million. Six roofing projects still need board approval for $1.6 million, and more projects will come, he said.

The district is also checking every school roof for leaks, said LAUSD facilities director Mark Hovatter. He noted that some school gutters have tennis balls stuck in them, some have animal nests. That’s all being taken care of right now.


Los Angeles School Police Chief Steven Zipperman said the entire district will have an El Niño preparation exercise in three weeks to see where issues still exist in their emergency plans.

The district is also sharing personal home preparations and other helpful documents, and two scheduled El Niño town halls are being held by the district, on Dec. 3 and Dec 9, that are open to anyone.

Click here to sign up for the LA School Report newsletter, and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Read Next