Disaster Preparedness

In the past few weeks, East County residents have experienced a pair of earthquakes along with a fire that burned more than 700 acres before it was extinguished, and incidents like these serve as reminders of the potential for a widespread, critical emergency occurring in the area.

“You’re never going to avoid (emergencies) 100%,” said Gus Vina, Brentwood city manager. “Sometimes we get very focused on earthquakes, but then the event is a truck that overturns with chlorine, or a shooting. We’re in this environment where a lot of bad stuff that can potentially happen. Nobody should ever think they’re immune. It can happen anywhere at any time, for many reasons.”

People in the business of responding to emergencies of every kind stress the importance of preparation and planning to mitigate risks, improve the odds of survival, and reduce the strain on emergency response systems in the event of a city- or county-wide incident. Every household should prepare and maintain a fully-stocked emergency kit that contains items like flashlights, medical supplies and a battery-powered radio. Food and water for each member of the household for three days should also be stored, and the needs of pets should be included in any preparations. The kit should be stored in a location that’s easily accessible in the event a quick evacuation is necessary. PG&E has a useful guide for creating an emergency kit that can be found at: bit.ly/thepress_emergencykit. The Red Cross is also a good source of information on disaster preparation, and emergency kits and supplies may also be purchased at redcross.org/store/preparedness.

“(Disasters) can strike without warning, at any time of year, day or night,” says Jennifer Lucas, disaster preparedness manager for the Red Cross in Contra Costa County. “Be prepared by making an emergency kit, and keep it updated, working with all of your family members to create a plan in case of emergency, and staying informed through local channels including Red Cross apps and the website.”

While each city has plans for emergency response, Vina said the county is primarily responsible for developing a response template and managing incidents. The role of each city is to integrate with the county’s plan.

“Like other cities, we have a comprehensive emergency response plan and will coordinate with other agencies and entities to respond to the needs of the community during an earthquake or other emergency,” said Bryan Montgomery, Oakley city manager. “I believe the key point to make, however, is that each individual and family need to take steps to prepare, and cannot necessarily count on quick assistance in the time of a huge emergency. Each resident should know what to do in the event of an earthquake, have an emergency preparedness kit that provides food and water for the entire family for at least 72 hours, but hopefully longer. There are great resources on ready.gov, and we would encourage each resident to go on that site and make preparations now.”

In the event of a significant emergency, the East Contra Costa Fire Protection District’s Fire Chief, Brian Helmick, said the initial responsibility of first responders like fire and police departments — after they assess their own operational capabilities — will be to assess the overall situation before they commit resources to any particular situation. That process will likely mean very long response times for many individual circumstances, which reinforces the need for self-reliance, particularly in the early hours of an event.

“You need to have the expectation in a substantial event that fire, police and EMS response times are going to be extremely delayed,” Helmick said. “That’s the reality of it. There may be access challenges. There may be higher priority calls.”

For those looking to lend a hand in a time of need, the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program provides that opportunity, explained Brentwood Police Chief Tom Hansen. The program educates people about disaster preparedness for hazards that may impact their area, and trains them in basic disaster response skills. Using the training learned in the classroom and during exercises, CERT members are trained to assist others after an incident, when first responders may not be immediately available. Approximately 300 people have been through the Brentwood Police Department’s CERT training, and another session begins in October. Hansen encourages anyone with an interest in getting involved with the community to consider participation in that training.

“The best way that citizens can help themselves in a disaster is not to need help,” said Helmick. “So what is it that you can do to not lean on the emergency response system? There are going to be those that didn’t take preventative measures and are not prepared. If they want to strive for something, it is: ‘when it goes down, how are you not only going to take care of yourself, but be able to help those next to you?’ to take strain off of our system.”

In addition to the links already provided, there is a wealth of information online regarding disaster preparedness. The Town of Discovery Bay published a Home Disaster Preparedness Guide that can be found at bit.ly/thepress_db_emergencyguide.

Information on the Brentwood Police Department’s CERT training can be found at brentwoodca.gov/gov/police/emergency/cert.asp.

In the event of a disaster, information on the more than 250 Red Cross shelters in East County can be found at: redcross.org/shelters.

“That’s when you need to remain calm, have good perspective and stay very focused on what needs to be happening right now,” said Vina. “You have to be a decision maker. You can’t hesitate. It’s not time for analysis. You have to make decisions.”