On September 20, 2018, I attended the “Road to Resilience,” an emergency management conference sponsored by the Business Industry Council on Emergency Planning & Preparedness (BICEPP). The full day event was held at the AirTel Plaza hotel in Van Nuys and was well attended by private sector, government employees, and non-government organizations (NGOs). Given the information provided, I believe everyone came away with an upgraded level of knowledge about how to prepare for the next earthquake, fire, flood, or other natural disaster.
While sponsors Jeff Edelstein of SOS Products and Glen Granholm of Safe-T-Proof told us what every company and home should have in their emergency supply kits, informational presentations included Caltech’s Margaret Vinci on the science of studying earthquakes, Los Angeles City Emergency Management Department’s Jon Brown on the Ready Your LA Neighborhood program, Ventura County Emergency Preparedness Program’s Dan Wall on lessons learned from the Thomas Fire, and Dr. Dennis Mileti, Professor Emeritus from the University of Colorado on modernizing public warning messaging. BICEPP President Chris Wright gave opening remarks and kept the program moving at a fast pace and Ross Kocen of First on Scene Training explained how companies and organizations can get the most out of their EPP training.
Additionally, Les Borsay, Emergency Planning Specialist for The J. Paul Getty Trust spoke about how the December 6, 2017 fire in the Sepulveda Pass caused his facility to go into emergency procedures. We heard from Abby Browning, Chief of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services on how she manages Private Sector/NGO coordination for the State of California during a disaster. Nina Johnson from the Institute for Emergency Training explained what it takes to activate an Emergency Operations Center, and Michael Ripley, CEM, CBCP talked about the essentials of developing a corporate Emergency Operations Center, from design and budget to technology, supplies and resources.
The presentation by Dr. Dennis Mileti was particularly poignant. He stated, “It’s a myth that people immediately take protective action when they receive a warning message. In reality, people don’t change their mind without following up with others and checking other resources. Human nature delays protective action when warned.”
He suggested maximizing alerts that are ‘actionable’ and make sure your messaging is clear, direct, and no more than 360 characters in length. Craft messages that reduce milling and public action delay and be specific as to what you are telling the public to do. Also, use symbols that have universal understanding so those who do not speak English also get the message. For more information on what emergency messaging looks like, he suggested reviewing the Army Corp of Engineers’ Guidebook to Public Alerts.
Margaret Vinci, manager of Caltech’s Office of Earthquake Programs had some strong warnings for California businesses noting, “There are over 30 earthquakes per day in Southern California and 300 known earthquake faults. The 1971 Sylmar earthquake registered 6.6 on the Richter scale while the Northridge earthquake registered 6.7.
Because earthquakes cannot be predicted, it’s essential to have a good early warning system that can kick into action sending out alerts once the vibrations begin. Caltech, presently, can only give us a five to ten second early warning. With that type of warning, immediate action is required to avoid injury or possible death. Vinci said Caltech is now looking for people to build better earthquake warning mechanisms to make the public ready. In the meantime, she suggested that individuals and businesses run regular warning drills to enhance their earthquake readiness capabilities and attend any public Shake Alerts that serve your business locations and residences.
Dan Wall, Ventura County Public Health Emergency Preparedness Manager, gave us a grim but vivid overview of the terrible destruction that occurred during the December 4, 2017 Thomas Fire that burned 281,893 acres – and advanced through 96,000 of them in just two days with the 65 mph Santa Ana winds. Of the population of 854,223, seventy thousand people were evacuated. Due to dangerous levels of smoke and particulates, the air became extremely toxic, requiring distribution of N95 and P95 face masks to virtually every person living there. Ralphs and Von’s markets helped distribute the masks from their cashier stands which greatly assisted in protective measures.
In all, the Thomas Fire destroyed 1,063 structures, and damaged another 280. It burned through 440 square miles in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and caused over $2.2 billion dollars in damages. There were two fatalities in this fire: 70-year old Virginia Rae Pesola died from a traffic incident while trying to flee the fire in Santa Paula, and 32-year old Fire Apparatus Engineer Cory Iverson of the CAL FIRE San Diego/San Diego County Fire Authority died while trying to put out a flare up.
The Thomas Fire was the largest wildfire in modern California history with over 8,500 firefighters involved. Over 500 residences were destroyed in one night in Ventura, alone. As a consequence of the fire, mudflows caused by flash floods in January later killed 21 people and destroyed 100 homes in the area of Montecito, with a portion of the 101 freeway, buried, which caused closure of the roadway for weeks.
With climate change and rising sea levels caused by increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, ‘super storms’ are now taking place around the globe and early warning systems may not be enough. If this conference taught us anything, it was that we all need to take measures to prepare for disasters, in our personal residences, at our offices, and in our communities.
Take a CERT class, learn emergency First Aid, and at the very least, set up an emergency plan for your own family that includes pets. The more prepared all ages of the family are, the greater your chances of survival.
For more information on emergency preparedness supplies & restoration, visit:
Think Trauma Kits: www.thinktraumakids.com
SOS Survival Products: SOSproducts.com
Simpson Strong-Tie: www.strongtie.com
Blue Can H2O: www.bluecanh2o.com
HARBRO Emergency Services & Restoration: Harbro.com
WorkSafe Technologies: https://worksafetech.com/
Pacific Protection Services: http://www.pacific-protection.com/
Belfor Property Restoration: https://www.belfor.com/en/us
Pat Kramer is a freelance writer and longtime board member of the STNC neighborhood council in the City of Los Angeles. For more information, go to: www.writerpatkramer.com.