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Shake, rattle & fake a quake

Posted: November 12, 2008 10:53 p.m.
Updated: November 13, 2008 4:59 a.m.


The overall fallout of the Great Southern California ShakeOut can be summed up: shaken, not stirred.

Emergency heads of the various local response units reported smooth going for the largest earthquake drill ever carried out in California.

At 10 a.m. Thursday, hundreds of local residents, from students to social workers, dropped to the ground, covered themselves as best they could and held that position for about a minute.

They were among more than 5.2 million people across the state participating in the Great Southern California ShakeOut, which based its drill on the hypothetical scenario that an earthquake registering magnitude 7.8 hit the San Andreas Fault.

In the Planning Department at Santa Clarita City Hall, permit specialist Linda Newman began removing potted plants and ornaments from the top of the office divider around her desk a few minutes before 10 a.m.

Objects placed high on shelves or cabinets become projectiles, she said.

When the clock struck 10 a.m. Newman crawled under her desk, where she found fellow permit specialist Debbie Porter.

Despite a bit of confusion as to which office clock to trust, the exercise went off without a hitch.

"It's not that important that they did the drop, cover and hold exactly at 10 o'clock, but that they did it," city spokeswoman Gail Ortiz said.

For her part, Ortiz contributed to an inter-agency assembly of first-responders discussing their roles in the event of a disaster.

Their particular drill was dubbed the Los Angeles County Operational Area Golden Guardian Exercise 2008.

Communication between first-responders dominated their talk.

"You can't make Xerox copies (for fliers) if you don't have power," Ortiz told a group of about 50 first responders, including fire, police and health care officials. "We've used bull horns before to get the message out.

"We'll do everything we can without power."

Keeping in contact
When a major earthquake knocks out phone service, ham radio operators jump into action.

Jim Osment, Steve Ioerger and Bob Panfil, all sporting bright red T-shirts, huddled over ham radio microphones in a small room near the first-responders.

They were the Amateur Radio Communications Matrix - the hub of emergency communication control.

"All communications at the start of the exercise are down," Osment explained. "So, at that point, the amateur radio would step in to open communication with county officials to establish our needs."

Osment and his team were in constant touch with other emergency centers including:
n City emergency officials reporting from City Hall,
n Saugus Union School District workers stationed at their office on Avenue Stanford,
n Newhall School District workers at their Orchard Village Road offices,
n Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital employees reporting from inside the Nursing Pavilion Meeting Room,
n William S. Hart Union High School District administrators from Centre Pointe Parkway and
n The American Red Cross stationed at the Church of the Nazarene on The Old Road.

"Saugus school told us they have four problems," Osment said. "They send those concerns to us and we give them to the appropriate responder."

Deputies dispatched
Sheriff's Sgt. Gregg Lewison of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station was at the Golden Guardian talk.

"I'm the liaison between the city and the Sheriff's Station," he said. "We want to make sure we share all the intelligence-gathering."

At the other end of Citrus Street, six sheriff's deputies huddled inside an emergency generator-powered trailer in the parking lot of the Sheriff's Station.

"We have 15 minutes to say to the county what our station is like," said Incident Commander Lt. Stephen Low. "We have 30 minutes to report on all our critical facilities and 45 minutes to give them the situation status for the whole city."

When 10 a.m. struck, all deputies on patrol were dispatched to inspect critical infrastructure such as bridges.

Deputies at the station assessed the condition of their staff and building. Despite the fake shaking, all things ran smoothly.

Station Capt. Anthony La Berge dropped by the emergency operations center trailer on his day off.

"Santa Clarita is very well-versed in dealing with fires and disasters," he said. "It's great when we have a drill where we can practice. Everything is running like clockwork."

Then he said goodbye to his emergency staff, walked out of the trailer - and promptly shook the trailer from the outside.

"Aftershock," Low said.

Hospital response
Pseudo bloody body parts and a fake burning operating room had Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital staff feeling more prepared to handle a real earthquake when it strikes.

"This is as close to real as it gets," said Terry Stone, emergency preparedness manager with the hospital, as she walked around assessing the "scene" and communicating with hospital incident command over a two-way radio.

The hospital partnered with local fire stations, the local American Red Cross district, College of the Canyons emergency medical technicians and nursing students and Community Emergency Response Team volunteers to create a comprehensive emergency drill, Stone said.

"Practicing all together really makes it come together," she said. "We know each other's forms, language, and how to proceed together."

Minutes after the earthquake announcement went out over the loudspeaker, hospital staff and volunteers immediately assessed the "victims" and separated them into different-colored categories based on the nature of their injuries. A white tent was set up to gather psychologically impaired victims.

Thomas Isaacs, a 21-year-old EMT student with a fake bloody nose, sat on a green plastic mat that identified him as "walking injured."

"That means I am able to function. I'm able to walk but I'm still wounded," he said. Isaacs was one of about 40 volunteers who played the role of earthquake victim.

He said being a victim gave him a better understanding of the triage procedure.

The incident command center has a new software system that allows the staff to more efficiently manage documentation of injuries and victims, Stone said.

"Communication is the big thing," said Teri Sullivan, an RN who helped design the drill. Sullivan said satellite radios and phones have provided tremendous improvement for communication with other hospitals and the county if the computers were to go down. "Before, we felt so isolated."

Students take a dive
Placerita Junior High School prepared for the ShakeOut exercises ahead of time by planning 18 different on-campus situations. Students, who were first instructed to stay under their desks during a real earthquake, went into action after being summoned to a tent where Assistant Principal Enrique Lopez, who organized the ShakeOut activities, triaged the campus' earthquake damage and disbursed student volunteers to different locations.

Eighth-grade ASB President Jake Ferry, 13, was sent to the designated first-aid center and assisted the school nurse.

"She taught us how to hold someone's neck and not to put your fingers in someone's cuts and not to try and take something out of someone who has something in them," Ferry said.

During the drill, Morgan Pedrick, 13, couldn't help but look back to the emotions she faced recently when her brother was in an accident.

"I was thinking, ‘Wow! What if this really was really real?' Seeing the student laying on the floor would really scare me," the ASB vice president said.

Two student volunteers, eighth-grader Tess Murray, 13, and classmate Alina Seredian, managed to actually cry.

Along with parent, teacher and administrative volunteers, ASB and drama students were enlisted to simulate a real-life earthquake scenario.

Eighth-grader Chloe Johnson, 13, is a second-year drama student who was given a specific role to play. It was her job, as instructed by her drama teacher Vicki Kennedy, to stay in character.

"I was in a closet on the side of the stage. I was supposed to pretend I was in shock and I was really scared and I had something sticking out of my head," Johnson said. "I was rescued but I tried to escape. I ran away and they (other volunteer students and teachers) came and got me and sat around me until it was over," she said. "They told us to stay in character and I was actually getting shaky and dizzy. I fell and they grabbed me."

Staff writers Melissa Gasca and Michelle Lovato contributed to this report.


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