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When disaster strikes the SCV, will you be ready?

Posted: September 4, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: September 4, 2013 2:00 a.m.
 

The problem with disaster preparation is it can be so darned overwhelming, Santa Clarita emergency management supervisor Donna Nuzzi admits.

Search Google for “emergency preparedness kit” and you’ll get more than 10 million hits; 1.7 million read up in a search for emergency preparedness lists. More than 77,000 hits are there just to tell Boy Scouts how to earn a merit badge for building a kit.

Nuzzi often speaks to Santa Clarita Valley groups about being prepared for a fire, earthquake, flood or man-made disaster. Often, she says, residents come to her afterward and ask, “Where do I begin?”

Her advice is to take it one day at a time.

“Try to achieve something in the next 24 hours,” she says. Buy a bottle of water while at the supermarket. Make that out-of-state emergency contact. One successful action can encourage more.

Residents in disaster-prone areas like the Santa Clarita Valley can be prepared on personal, home and family, neighborhood and community levels. Nuzzi sees preparedness as a life skill — a state of mind residents should always keep with them.

Encouraging that state of mind is among the goals of National Preparedness Month.

Personal and home preparedness

True preparedness isn’t just having a stash of flashlights, water and food at home. It’s being observant wherever you go and seeking ways to prevent disaster, says Los Angeles County Fire Department Assistant Chief Dean G. McGuire, the de facto fire chief for the Santa Clarita Valley.

It can be a state of awareness, McGuire says: Don’t flick that cigarette butt out the car window, don’t walk away from that campfire or barbecue if there’s any chance it’s still smoldering.

Observing one’s surroundings can mean calling in a smoke sighting to prevent a minor fire from becoming major.
And when it comes to fires, prevention is a very pro-active game.

Clearing brush to create defensible space around a property can make a tremendous difference in whether a home is spared in a fire, said Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl L. Osby. Osby estimates 94 percent of fires countywide are started by humans.

The department has published a booklet called “Ready! Set! Go!” to help residents of fire-prone areas prepare their homes and families. The booklet is available at any local fire station, McGuire said. It’s also online on the Fire Department’s website fire.lacounty.gov.

While earthquakes are tougher to prepare for, there are measures that can be taken to make your home more earthquake safe.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency offers a seven-step process to prepare one’s home and family for an earthquake, including securing moveable items, identifying hazards and practicing what to do if a quake hits. Many of the suggestions duplicate home preparation for fires or other disasters. Visit earthquakecountry.org for more information.

Community preparedness

For those who want to take preparedness beyond their immediate homes and families, Santa Clarita is offering a Community Emergency Response Training class — or CERT — beginning this Saturday and continuing for two subsequent Saturdays.

The class covers fire suppression/utility control, triage/disaster medical operations, light search and rescue, team organization and management and terrorism/disaster preparedness.

Registration is available by calling 661-250-3700. Enrollment is limited to 42, and the class is offered periodically.
Other preparedness classes coming up this month include:

Sept. 18: Weather spotter training and recruitment: 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Century Room at City Hall. This free session hosted by the National Weather Service offers an insider’s look at forecasting weather patterns and provides examples of severe weather condition reports. RSVP is not required.

Sept. 24: A pet preparedness workshop is scheduled 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Valencia Library.

Oct. 17 is the Great American ShakeOut, now a worldwide event aimed at involving families and communities in preparing for earthquakes or other disasters. 

Santa Clarita Valley schools regularly participate in the ShakeOut and will do so again this year, said Gail Pinsker, spokeswoman for the William S. Hart Union High School District.

“Each school site has a disaster plan in place as well as disaster kits, first aid kits and other resources required to survive a disaster such as a fire or earthquake,” Pinsker said.

“Additionally, the district works with local agencies and media to conduct a large-scale evacuation drill that includes evacuating all premises — staff, students, teachers — checking our disaster trailer and making sure we have adequate supplies in case of an emergency.”

Key: communication

While the key to peace of mind for the family is establishing communication — Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management Director Jeff Reeb reminds parents who work outside the valley to have a plan for their children who attend school here — the key to successful community response is communication between agencies, Assistant Fire Chief McGuire says.

“We have an outstanding master mutual aid program,” he says of first responders in Southern California. “We could be put on top of anyone in the nation.”

He particularly singled out Santa Clarita’s city leadership, and specifically City Manager Ken Striplin, for coordinating seamless disaster communication plans.

City Hall was red-tagged following the Northridge earthquake, but disaster-prepared employees set up tents outside in the parking lot and kept things running.

Emotional toll

Cary Quashen, executive director of Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital’s Behavioral Health Unit, says residents should be aware that disasters can take an emotional toll and be prepared for such reactions.

While a familiar toy or cuddly stuffed animal may help a child deal with trauma, the most soothing thing for adults is the knowledge they’re prepared, Quashen says.

He suggests residents don’t just have a preparedness kit in the home; also have a kit in the car. And as backup, have credit cards and cash in a bank safe deposit box.

Encourage people to talk about their experiences after a disaster: Doing so is therapeutic, Quashen says.
Be aware that emotional trauma can lead to sleeplessness, nightmares, inability to eat and other physical problems. Seek help if it’s needed; don’t just try to tough it out, he says.

And limit exposure to the media, especially children’s exposure. After Sept. 11, 2001, many families repeatedly viewed the jetliners flying into the Twin Towers and the disaster that followed, he said. Entire families were traumatized.

“You don’t want those images implanted in the brain — they stay there.”

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