SOUTH GATE — Earthquake preparedness experts are urging school officials to design disaster plans that rely on local residents and businesses, saying that if a major quake hits, city agencies and fire departments are going to be too busy to provide much help to schools.
There is a 25% chance that a great earthquake will occur during school hours, and school officials need to be prepared to offer both medical and psychological first aid to frightened children, said Jerry Kurilich, a specialist in the Los Angeles Unified School District's Office of Emergency Services who spoke this week at an earthquake preparedness conference attended by about 300 Southeast school officials.
"We are going to have to take care of the situation in our schools ourselves," Kurilich said.
An example of a self-reliant disaster plan was presented by Jan Smith, emergency services coordinator for Ventura County. Smith designed such a plan for that county's 22 school districts.
Since an earthquake is bound to affect more than just the school grounds, Smith recommended that the planning process begin with a map of a 1-mile radius around the school. The map would plot major industrial sites such as oil refineries or chemical plants in the area that could affect a school's evacuation plan.
Smith suggested that schools have two alternate evacuation sites in case school buildings collapse in an earthquake.
Teachers probably will find it difficult to keep track of children in their classes and take care of any injured students at the same time, Smith said, so she suggested recruiting nearby residents to help.
In Ventura County, questionnaires were distributed to about 1,000 houses in the area of each school asking if residents would be interested in receiving emergency training to participate in the school's disaster plan. More than 20% agreed, Smith said.
"Parents and residents can be an invaluable resource," Smith said.
The help of local businesses can also be enlisted, she said. In Ventura County, some schools have deals with merchants in which the merchants agree to provide supplies after a disaster and be paid later by the district.
"This also gets the businesses thinking about earthquake preparedness," Smith said.
District officials also should be prepared to deal with residents who turn to the schools for help, and with cities that may want to use schools as shelters.
"You're going to have some real turf wars here," Smith said.
The conference also included a workshop titled "Quieting the Fears: Psychological Aspects of a Disaster."
For months after the Oct. 1, 1987, earthquake that hit Southern California, children suffered psychological after-effects such as recurring nightmares, fear of sleeping alone and bed-wetting.
Psychologist Norma Gordon urged teachers to prepare children for an earthquake by explaining beforehand that they may not be able to see their parents for a few days after a disaster. Earthquake drills should be practiced often, Gordon said, so that the disaster response is automatic.
She also urged school officials to discuss their own qualms about earthquakes. "Unless we come to terms with our own fears we cannot deal with the children's fears," Gordon said.
The daylong conference at South Gate Junior High School was sponsored by the Area E Disaster Board of Los Angeles County, which serves 23 Southeast cities. "Earthquakes, Schools Etc." was the board's first conference dedicated solely to earthquake preparedness.