By Mary O’KEEFE
Millions of households without power, lines of communication spotty at best, people trapped in homes, weather taking a turn for the worse.
These were the headlines that followed Hurricane Sandy that slammed into the east coast on Oct. 29. The late-season storm left a path of destruction as it made landfall in Atlantic City, NJ. Photos of New York subways flooded and city streets deserted and under water filled the airways. For emergency responders in California, the photos were a warning of a similar possibility – not of a hurricane, but an earthquake.
“We have been watching it pretty closely,” said Paul Dutton, captain of Crescenta Valley CERT (Community Emergency Response Team). “These are the very things we are worried about.”
Dutton and his CERT team have been warning people for years that this type of devastation could happen in Southern California after a major earthquake. Getting people to pay attention is an uphill battle.
“People think it won’t be that bad here,” he said. “They become complacent.”
Dutton added the wind event a year ago should have been a warning of things to come. In December 2011, a windstorm that brought gusts up to 70 miles per hour blew utility poles and trees down throughout the foothills. Some were without power for a week as utility companies scrambled to get to their customers.
Dutton warned this type of situation could be worse after an earthquake. The USGS (United States Geology Survey) developed the ShakeOut Scenario in 2008 as a plausible 7.8 earthquake on the southern San Andreas Fault. The team scenario included not only physical damage but also the economic aftermath. Local agencies like police, sheriff and CERT work together during a ShakeOut drill. According to USGS, it is not “if” but “when” a large earthquake will occur.
CERT members participate in drills throughout the year to get their team ready for any disaster and, although they are prepared, Dutton is concerned about the general public.
“People need to take responsibility for themselves,” Dutton said.
He warned that, depending on the severity of the emergency, the infrastructure can break down and people will have to depend on themselves and be available to help neighbors.
“They used to tell people to have supplies that can last the first 72 hours, now they are advising seven to 10 days,” Dutton said. “We saw the long lines for gas in New York. That will happen here.”
He added that families need to have a plan in case of an emergency.
“Have a place you will all meet,” he advised, adding special instructions for those who have children in school when there is an emergency. “Tell them to stay tight and wait for mom. For older kids, have a place to meet.”
If the kids are not in school during an emergency, a place should be arranged for them to meet as well.
Glendale Fire Department personnel also watched Sandy, and the recovery after. They reviewed daily reports and what is still being done.
“Who would have thought a hurricane [like this] would go through New Jersey?” asked Glendale Bat. Chief Ron Gulli. He added that the GFD prepares for earthquake and wild fires by reviewing what they have done in the past and how others react to disasters in areas like those affected by Sandy.
“The thing about [Sandy] was everybody had time in which to do something. They knew it was coming and how bad it was going to get, “ he said.
Unfortunately there is no way to predict an earthquake – yet. The only thing that is certain is that an earthquake is overdue in California and it is important to be prepared for whatever, and whenever, it happens.
Gulli added that residents must be prepared for evacuations as well. This was seen during the Station Fire and the following floods when local families had to evacuate.
“We don’t take issuing evacuation very lightly,” he said. “I have done fires where [residents] are reluctant to leave.”
But both Gulli and Dutton advise residents to have a list of what they would take in case of an evacuation and know where those items are located.
“It’s the five minute drill,” Gulli said. “Write down what you are going to take if given five minutes to leave your home.”
The bottom line is to be prepared.
“People think it won’t happen here, or that if it does everything will be okay,” Dutton said. “I tell them to be prepared to be in a cold, dark house for three to four days.”