Disaster Response…. “Not Business as Usual”

Preparedness and practice are critical to surviving “the big one”

Sally McGill (CSUSB), Tom Rockwell (SDSU)
A stock photo of a geological field map of the San Jacinto Fault Zone.

■ By Scott Brown, Fire Chief, City of Hemet Fire/EMS Department / 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.

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

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!

Before An Earthquake:
1.- Before an earthquake occurs, secure items that could fall or move and cause injuries or damage (e.g., bookshelves, mirrors, light fixtures, televisions, computers, hot water heaters. Move beds away from windows and secure any hanging items over beds, couches, cribs or other places people sit or lie.
2.- Practice how to “Drop, Cover, and Hold On!”
• Plan and practice how to Drop to the ground, Cover your head and neck with your arms, and if a safer place is nearby that you can get to without exposing yourself to flying debris, crawl to it and Hold On to maintain cover.
• To react quickly, you must practice often. You may only have seconds to protect yourself in an earthquake.
3.- Store critical supplies (e.g., water, non-perishable food, medication) and important documents.
4.- Plan how you will communicate with family members, including multiple methods by making a family emergency communication plan.
5.- Consult a structural engineer to evaluate your home and ask about updates to strengthen areas that would be weak during an earthquake. When selecting a home or business to rent or buy, check if the building is earthquake resistant per local building codes.

During An Earthquake:
If you are inside a building:
1.- Drop down onto your hands and knees so the earthquake doesn’t knock you down. Drop to the ground (before the earthquake drops you!)
2.- Cover your head and neck with your arms to protect yourself from falling debris.
• If you are in danger from falling objects, and you can move safely, crawl for additional cover under a sturdy desk or table.
• If no sturdy shelter is nearby, crawl away from windows, next to an interior wall. Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as light fixtures or furniture.
3.- Hold on to any sturdy covering so you can move with it until the shaking stops.
4.- Stay where you are until the shaking stops. Do not run outside. Do not get in a doorway as this does not provide protection from falling or flying objects, and you may not be able to remain standing.

If getting safely to the floor to take cover won’t be possible:
1.- If getting safely to the floor will be difficult, actions before an earthquake to secure or remove items that can fall or become projectiles should be a priority to create spaces.
2.- Identify and get away from windows and objects that could fall on you. The Earthquake Country Alliance advises getting as low as possible to the floor. People who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices should lock their wheels, bend over, and remain seated until the shaking stops. Protect your head and neck with your arms, a pillow, a book, or whatever is available.

If you are in bed when you feel the shaking:
If you are in bed: Stay there and Cover your head and neck with a pillow. At night, hazards and debris are difficult to see and avoid; attempts to move in the dark result in more injuries than remaining in bed.

If you are outside when you feel the shaking:
If you are outdoors when the shaking starts, move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires. Once in the open, “Drop, Cover, and Hold On.” Stay there until the shaking stops.

If you are in a moving vehicle when you feel the shaking:
It is difficult to control a vehicle during the shaking. If you are in a moving vehicle, stop as quickly and safely as possible and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires. Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped. Avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that the earthquake may have damaged.

After An Earthquake:
• When the shaking stops, look around. If the building is damaged and there is a clear path to safety, leave the building and go to an open space away from damaged areas.
• If you are trapped, do not move about or kick up dust.
• If you have a cell phone with you, use it to call or text for help.
• Tap on a pipe or wall or use a whistle, if you have one, so that rescuers can locate you.
• Once safe, monitor local news reports via battery-operated radio, TV, social media, and cell phone text alerts for emergency information and instructions.
• Check for injuries and provide assistance if you have training. Assist with rescues if you can do so safely.
• If you are near the coast, learn about tsunamis in your area. If you are in an area that may have tsunamis, when the shaking stops, walk inland and to higher ground immediately. Monitor official reports for more information on the area’s tsunami evacuation plans.
• Use extreme caution during post-disaster clean-up of buildings and around debris. Do not attempt to remove heavy debris by yourself. Wear protective clothing, including a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, work gloves, and sturdy, thick-soled shoes during clean-up.
• Be prepared to “Drop, Cover, and Hold on” in the likely event of aftershocks.

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