In Focus: Emergency Preparedness

April 17, 2007 12:00 am
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By Thea Skinner

Triplicate staff writer

Community members saw the tip of the emergency preparedness iceberg this past weekend when local groups gathered to discuss ways to prepare for such natural disasters as wild fires, tsunamis, extreme weather, flash floods and landslides.

The Del Norte Transportation Commission began a series of workshops Friday and Saturday aimed at training residents for emergencies.

Community members from Crescent City, the Yurok Tribal Planning Department, Redwood Coast Transit Authority, Search and Rescue, Human Health Services and Coastline were present.

The weekend's training was "rural focused" and "reflects the nature of California," according to Tamera Buchanan, director of the Local Transportation Commission.

"There is an overall disconnect between rural and metro areas in California," she said.

The training comes during the planning stages of improvements to U.S. Hwy. 199 and State Hwy. 197. These improvements are expected to bring more safety and security concerns to the community.

The California Department of Transportation requires elements of the training to be incorporated into an emergency plan. Caltrans outlines such requirements in the Transit Emergency Planning Guide, a draft doctrine by the state.

Emergency Preparedness consultants Ream Lazaro and Gary Gleason facilitated the training. They previously developed successful conferences in Los Angeles and San Diego.

"Emergency response time is three minutes in metropolitan areas, but rural response time could be 30 minutes," Gleason said. "What happens here in building relationships is key."

Gleason has experience with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in three publicly declared disasters.

"We are trying to create an on-going dialogue and a movement toward an action step so that you, as a community, can feel more comfortable in responding to emergency events," Lazaro said. "There is no way that can happen unless everyone comes together."

Some attending the Friday workshop expressed the need for the Coast Guard and Sutter Coast Hospital, as well as other organizations, to attend.

Workshop dialogue and exercises helped put situations in perspective in what Gleason calls "scenario analysis."

Judy McNamer, manager for Redwood Coast Transit offered such a scenario.

"During the tsunami warning, disabled people were stranded at a hotel," she said. "It was a horrible feeling to know we had people there willing to help, but we could not get them there."

The training emphasized four basic principles: prepare, prevent, respond and recover. Communication is critical in times of emergency, Gleason said.

Indeed, the more disclosure community members give, the more resources the community will receive in return.

Dale Peacock,who heads transportation programs for the Yurok Tribal Planning Department, gave resource ideas to improve preparedness. He said there are linkage issues, and they have "a massive fuel tank, so any vehicle can fuel up in an emergency."

He also mentioned that no alternative routes exist on some roads.

Lazaro suggested making sure buses are stocked with necessary items such as candy for diabetics.

Other vital information was exchanged during the time of open dialogue.

"A lot of our officers are first responders, emergency medical service types, from Lake Havasu (Ariz.)," said California Highway Patrol Sgt. Dale Gray.

Another issue at the table was training drivers to lift disabled people and maneuver bus lifts.

"In San Diego, the transit operators were given a button to press to maneuver certain vehicle operations," said James Ogbonna, Caltrans chief senior transportation planner.

"We have equipment that can help your emergency operations plan for districts and the county," he said, suggesting the parties create a memorandum of understanding to share it.

Others agreed but noted that obstacles, such as a good-old-boys' network, can get in the way.

It is a problem that is being worked on though, according to Cindy Henderson, emergency preparedness coordinator for the county's Department of Health and Social Services.

The consultants, Gleason and Lazaro, will next identify the community's unmet needs and report to the commission at the remaining workshop sessions.

Gleason expects a final draft of the California Department of Transportation's Transit Emergency Planning Guide to be available in about a month.

Reach Thea Skinner at .