County employees and community volunteers may be trained to quickly help neighborhoods and disaster workers under a proposal offered this week by Ventura County Sheriff John Gillespie.
Gillespie said his idea was sparked by his observations of a fast and efficient team of community volunteers in Los Gatos, a Bay Area city affected by the Oct. 17 earthquake. Supervisors are to consider it in two weeks.
"We have the genesis of this sort of thing already in Simi Valley, Fillmore, Santa Paula and the Upper Ojai," Gillespie said. "But they're not nearly large enough. What we do have is 5,000 county employees, who, when they signed on with the county, became emergency volunteer workers."
As emergency workers, county employees could be trained by a variety of county agencies to organize neighborhoods and businesses. Immediately after a disaster, a dozen volunteers could be sent out to check gas lines, another squad to knock on doors and check for injuries, and another group to assess damages.
Gillespie's comments followed a slide presentation Tuesday from members of the team his department sent to the Bay Area after last month's 7.1 earthquake. In Los Gatos, the Disaster Aid Response Team impressed the group with its immediate and professional reaction, Cmdr. Raymond Abbott told the supervisors.
Because the smaller communities such as Los Gatos and Santa Cruz suffered fewer injuries than Oakand and San Francisco, attention and outside aid focused on the larger, more well-known cities.
With scientists forecasting an even bigger earthquake in Southern California, Gillespie said Ventura County would come in second behind Los Angeles in allocation of attention and resources.
With major roads and freeways impassable, organized community volunteers trained in first aid, rescue procedures and damage assessment could make a life-and-death difference in the first three days after a disaster, Gillespie said.
The proposal is in its early stages. There is no funding yet available, and the the county Office of Emergency Services is still compiling information from Los Gatos, Los Angeles and other cities that offer volunteer training programs, said Jan Smith, emergency services coordinator. But work is going quickly ahead.
"It's a high priority project," she said.