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LIVING WITH OUR FAULTS : Getting Ready : Emergency response agencies can't afford to be unprepared. They and ham radio operators will be key players when a quake hits.

August 06, 1992|LEO SMITH

Brian Bolton was surprised he didn't get more calls after the recent Southern California earthquakes.

As executive director of the Ventura County Chapter of the American Red Cross, he expected to hear from people seeking tips on how to prepare for a local earthquake.

"Individuals tend to think about it and not do it," he said. "We tend not to want to think about the potential of something bad happening to us so we tend to put these things off."

To be prepared or not to be prepared. Individuals can be wishy-washy, but emergency response agencies can't.

While the general population of Ventura County may debate whether to worry about the Big One or even the Medium-Sized One, certain agencies are trying to stay as ready as possible to jump into action when that earthquake does hit.

Bolton's Red Cross, of course, is one such agency.

"Our initial need is to provide shelter and food for victims," he said. "Initially it's the responsibility of the local chapter. In a major earthquake we would call upon the rest of the organization through surrounding chapters. We would go from there to statewide response, up to and including national response."

Bolton said the volunteers and staff members go through extensive training to learn to deal with "mass care, damage assessment and health services." There are seven Red Cross teams in the county.

The Red Cross and other local agencies coordinate with the Office of Emergency Services, which is operated by the Sheriff's Department.

The OES has an extensive disaster plan, called the Multi-Hazard Functional Plan, which deals with 10 disasters ranging from a hazardous material problem to a nuclear attack.

"Cities have their own disaster plans. If it gets beyond what they can handle they go to the county," said Wendy Haddock, assistant director of the OES.

The earthquake section of the plan is a worst-case scenario based on a 1983 study of the effects of an 8.0 magnitude quake on the southern portion of the San Andreas Fault. It deals with communication, water supply and utility problems, and the potential for injury and death. There are also sections regarding dam breaks and tsunamis, both of which could accompany a quake.

"If you are ready for an earthquake," said Haddock, "you're basically ready for any disaster."

Haddock's office coordinates with others throughout the county including the Ventura County Fire Department and the Emergency Medical Services office. Spokeswoman Sandi Wells said the department also uses the OES Multi-Hazard Functional Plan.

In addition to handling fires, she said, "we would do light and heavy rescue, from broken bones to a person trapped in a building."

Wells said fire crews would also look for any other hazards, such as gas leaks, and could serve as law enforcement, helping with evacuation and traffic control.

Julie Bridges, assistant administrator of EMS, said her office's initial response would be to check on the needs of hospitals countywide and to get them supplies if necessary.

"I can get supplies from the state EMS authority in Sacramento. I call them and they will send us whatever we need," Bridges said. "In a disaster situation we mainly are looking at supplies for traumatic injuries--broken bones, head traumas, crush injuries" and anxiety-related problems such as heart attacks and asthma attacks.

EMS and county hospital representatives meet monthly to discuss disaster response. Hospital are prepared to set up triage areas outside. And in the works now is a plan to set up community first aid stations.

The EMS also has a list of the 90 or so convalescent hospitals in the county and would check in with them. And it has a psychological program for disaster relief workers--both volunteer and professional.

Instrumental to the success of all of these agencies is a volunteer ham radio network set up across the county. The 233-member Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) and the approximately 400-member Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), local chapters of national networks, may be the first to contact these emergency offices.

"Within 30 seconds we're doing preliminary damage reports," said Dave Gilmore, coordinator of RACES and third in command of ARES.

Gilmore said the members, who live throughout the county, report on what they have witnessed.

These reports are delivered to the OES, the EMS and other agencies to help them evaluate damage. Radio operators would also be available to help emergency centers should regular telephone lines go down.

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