Disaster Response…. “Not Business as Usual”

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City of Hemet
Hemet Fire Chief Scott Brown has a disaster preparedness plan. Do you?

■ By Scott Brown Fire Chief / Contributed

In California, we live daily with the very real threat of man-made and natural disasters. Experts agree that it’s not if but when a large earthquake will impact our state. The devastation from a large earthquake will be far reaching, locally and across the state – ripping into the very fabric of our communities. One estimate, according to a State of California seismic assessment study, noted the potential for thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in damage as a result of a large seismic event.
Across the state, emergency management professionals have dedicated their entire careers toward changing the public’s complacent mindset about emergency preparedness. Yet, despite these efforts, apathy about the importance of emergency preparedness may negatively impact our ability to survive in the critical post-disaster environment.
Mutual aid agreements and CERT teams
Throughout the year, response agencies across the region participate in sophisticated disaster planning and response scenarios and California has what is considered the finest mutual aid system in the world. Emergency management professionals work tirelessly in preparing, planning and exercising disaster plans. The City of Hemet has embraced the formation of community preparedness coalitions such as Community Emergency Response Team Training (CERT) along with other community-based groups.
Yet despite these comprehensive efforts, large segments of the population are still totally unprepared for a major event. Equally important to all is the understanding that no emergency response agency has the number of resources that will be necessary to react, respond to and manage a large-scale incident such as an earthquake. Emergency response agencies will be forced to manage their collective response by adopting a modified or streamlined response strategy.
This means it will not be business as usual. Fire departments will place initial emphasis on area-wide assessments of infrastructure including schools, hospitals, bridges, major businesses and other buildings – looking for the amount and magnitude of damage or more obvious concerns such as fires. This assessment will serve as an important initial barometer of the intensity of the earthquake, allowing fire commanders to deploy emergency resources where they are needed most.
What does this mean for all of us who count on our emergency services on a daily basis? As part of a streamlined response strategy in a large-scale disaster, 911 calls will be prioritized and emergency responders will only respond to those calls determined to need immediate attention, such as multiple casualty scenarios, collapsed buildings where there may be survivors, and fires that have the potential to develop into larger fires that could destroy whole city blocks or business districts.
Emergency responders also endure the disaster
Keep in mind, along with the entire community, firefighters and other emergency responders will also have to endure the disaster. As part of their initial plan, they must “call home” or leave a message to let loved ones know everything is OK. In those cases where they can’t get through to their families, they will leave a message with a designated out-of-state contact. Bottom line: this peace of mind for our first responders will be critical to their state of mind in responding to our community’s needs.
Critical to the ability of emergency response agencies to mount an effective response to such an event will be the level of preparedness of businesses and individuals and the awareness that each citizen must possess in terms of their responsibility.
Businesses need to have a Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP) and prepare for the possibility that employees will not be able to leave the worksite for a period of time. Individual citizens need to be prepared to be self-sufficient for up to 72 hours. Yes – it could take three full days before help arrives! This scenario became a reality in such disasters as Hurricane Katrina and Haiti. The reality and experience of recent disasters across the world has shown that it may take up to two weeks before help arrives.
All of us who live and work in California are going to experience an earthquake: How much time you invest in preparing individually and as a business community will make the difference. So let’s ENGAGE AND PREPARE FOR THE IMPACT TOGETHER!

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