This is a subject I cannot leave alone …
…. not only because of its current relevancy but because of my past intimate experiences with three different disaster scenes and later professional involvement in emergency management. The Texas coastal storm, Hurricane Harvey and Southern California earthquakes may seem absolutely dissimilar – but there are many parallels in both the preparation and response elements to consider.
It very likely falls on deaf ears, but the warnings from the earthquake scientists keep coming and they are louder and more positive. The people at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA and other agencies have refined their methods of mapping and predicting earthquakes and have even come up with an early warning system – even a 20-second warning may save lives. Coincidentally, there have been many discussions, but little action, in considering our Gulf Coast and its vulnerability to severe storms. The history of death and destruction in that region reaches back into the 18th Century.
In November of 2015, the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University, concerned about the survival of the huge chemical industry around Houston-Galveston, published a strong warning about the potential devastating effects of hurricanes and storm surges on the industry. Atlantic magazine’s recent piece (August 24, 2017), “Is Texas ready for hurricane Harvey?” detailed what was likely to happen. Further, a recent Newsweek article spoke about the lack of city planning in general in Houston, claiming that will lead to a chaotic response to disasters. There are far too many articles, books, videos detailing the effects of a major earthquake in Southern California to reference here. Suffice to say, like a bad romance, memories of past earthquakes soon fade.
At any emergency scene, people we refer to as “convergent volunteers” always show up wanting to help. Problem usually is that the desire exceeds the knowledge required to be of much assistance. Helping — to haul a fire hose line is one thing, tending to injured and panicked people is another. However, if on-scene managers can properly deal with them, extra hands are welcome. The response in Texas by so many ordinary citizens is exemplary and illustrates how such volunteers can be used when the Incident Command calls for them – as did happen when the great need for boats and volunteers to be used for search and rescue was answered in a resolute and steady fashion. Made all the difference.
In a major earthquake scenario we may find that such volunteers will not exist in any numbers because they will be taking care of themselves. Many communities have resident volunteers trained to assist in every area from the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to directing traffic until trained responders such as the Red Cross, police and fire personnel can appear – which could take days in the worst case. Community Emergency Response Teams – CERT – are now in hundreds of cities and provide a trained corps of local volunteers. West Hollywood once sponsored CERT and we had over 200 residents trained. Our goal then was to have one CERT member on each block and, perhaps, even one in each condo or apartment building. The city withdrew its sponsorship over concerns of liability. However, CERT training continues under the auspices of the L.A. County Fire Department. Information about CERT training may be obtained from WeReCERT.org or the city’s Public Safety Office.
Not every individual or household may have the resources to rush out and stock up on emergency supplies. In the past I have suggested that neighbors can pool resources and purchase storage. If nothing else, have water. It is generally considered that water needs are one gallon per person per day. Another major concern is human waste. If your water line is cut off you can flush your toilet only once. And don’t forget your animals’ needs. There are many sources of information of how to plan for survival in an emergency. I boiled them all down to a short list:
— Water – you cannot have enough!
— Toilet and sanitary items
— Try to keep a half tank of gas in your car at all times – if you have to evacuate, you’ll use most of the fuel simply sitting in traffic getting away.
— Cash – if possible keep $200 in fives and ones and be wary of vendors taking advantage of the old supply and demand rule to charge extreme prices
— Sturdy shoes to get you through rubble
— A “Go Bag”, to contain any important documents you may need to take if you evacuate
— Your phone or a small radio – and batteries or charger
— A knowledge of where local resources such as shelters are likely to be located
— Best of all – do some advance planning to survive the event.
The parallels between the response to Harvey and a major earthquake are actually the same and depend upon the degree of individual readiness, municipal planning (or lack thereof) and organized county, state or federal response. Keep in mind that the principal disaster threat to WeHo is a major earthquake, but we could also face large fires, a destructive El Nino and civil disturbances. We are not immune from any of those events. It is interesting to note that as many as 13,000 refugees from the ruined sections of New Orleans following hurricane Katrina were moved to Houston. I wonder how they managed this time.
And, I do not know what the city will do as public outreach for National Preparedness Month in September, but I’d like to see at least one event at a venue like Plummer Park’s Fiesta Hall, where vendors could show along with a series of speakers and perhaps films on preparedness and survival concerns.