“How many times do people hear that there is a 90-percent probability that the Big One is coming?” said Carole Crawford, disaster manager for the Red Cross Bay Area. “But unless they feel a rumbling or see a fire, most of us don’t pay attention. That’s the reality.”
In East County, where the population is a mixed bag of rural and urban dwellers, the reality of disaster planning is different than in the rest of Contra Costa. “East County’s biggest concern is water,” said Crawford. “In the event of a catastrophe, old levees and flooding are a worry … I’ve seen what happens when people aren’t prepared.”
The good news is that East County is fairly well situated. Crawford said that the Red Cross has a statement of understanding with nearly every school district in East County to use their facilities as emergency shelters in the event of a disaster.
In Byron, St. Anne Catholic Church was built two years ago with emergency shelter features such as showers and a service kitchen. “What has transpired is that the facility (St. Anne) is what they call a stand-alone,” said Tony Hicks, business facilities manager for St. Anne. “Meaning that we have our own water, showers and kitchen. As a result, we were contacted by the county and the Red Cross and entered into a statement of understanding. They (Red Cross) have come out and provided training to our people for emergency preparedness in case of a disaster, and at this point we have 25 church members who are volunteers, but we’re certainly going to open that (volunteering opportunity) to the community at some point.”
In the meantime, said Hicks, the Red Cross has supplied St Anne with disaster start-up kits for approximately 100 people, although he added that the facility itself could easily accommodate 250 residents.
Briana Taylor, a volunteer with the Red Cross, has been working with St. Anne to provide emergency training, and said one thing that makes the church an ideal relief site is the very nature of its designation.
“What we know is that in a disaster, people who are injured are going to go to their churches for help,” said Taylor. “And once people know their immediate family is OK, they will again turn to go to their churches as a way to help others. And that’s one reason we approached St. Anne. It really helps us (Red Cross) because we are limited (staff-wise).”
Other churches in East County have entered into understandings with the Red Cross, said Crawford, including Church of the Good Shepherd in Pittsburg and Holy Rosary Church in Antioch. Which facilities get opened to the public during an emergency, however, is left to the discretion of the Office of Emergency Services based on need and location.
“All of those locations might be prepared to serve as shelters, but if something happens, you should turn on the radio to which ones are actually being activated,” said Taylor. “It’s always a fine line.”
“Contra Costa County is really large,” added Crawford. “And our focus is always on making sure the vulnerable population such as children, the elderly and the poor are taken care of, and sometimes it varies. An earthquake in San Ramon versus one in Richmond would be a very different set of circumstances.”
Still, said Taylor, in the event of a disaster, the best offense is a solid defense. “All it takes to be prepared are three simple things: make a plan, pick a meeting place and put together some supplies.”
A plan, said Taylor, is as simple as picking a contact person everyone agrees to call following an event. “Choose someone who doesn’t live in the area and is a contact person for all family members to call,” said Taylor. “Sometimes during an emergency you can’t make local calls but you are able to call out of the area, so picking someone farther away is a good idea.
“After the Oakland Hills fire I remember that the hardest thing was that no one knew where anyone was. It was a Sunday and people were out and were hard to reach. So having a meeting place, knowing where to go if there is a fire, is helpful for everyone.”
The third step, putting together supplies, said Taylor, is also simple.
“Build or buy some kind of a kit,” she said. “You should have enough food and water on hand for 72 hours. What you need will depend upon your people. Think about medical needs for young and older people, flashlights, batteries and first-aid kits. It wouldn’t hurt to add an extra pair of glasses or contact lens solution. Plan to be on your own for three days and you’ll be in good shape.”
The reality, said Crawford, is that the more help the better, and the fact that groups such as St. Anne and local schools are on board makes everyone’s chances of survival better.
“We are part of a six-county region out here,” she said, “and you bet it’s a comfort knowing we have people in place. It also gives the community a sense of involvement and purpose, and we’re (Red Cross) happy to have all the help and support all we can get.”
For more information on disaster preparedness, visit the Red Cross Web site at www.redcross.org