How are we going to know if we are completely prepared for the next disaster? We cannot evaluate our preparedness until we are put to the test. Then, we do a lessons learned exercise and make adjustments. A major task of becoming totally prepared is getting government, industry and citizens coordinated and working toward the same goal.
Geotechnical reports and structural engineering since the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake have changed our way of living in "earthquake country." The earthquakes in Coalinga in 1983, the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989, and Northridge in 1994, were heavy reminders of the forces of nature. These earthquakes have made it evident that understanding and implementing the four phases of disaster preparedness - mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery - can make a difference.
Government Agencies such as FEMA, the Governor's Office of Emergency Services, and local government agencies and offices, along with volunteer organizations like the Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) have emerged over the years as an outgrowth of lessons learned. Their operations have been refined with the establishment of the Incident Command System (ICS) and the Standardized Emergency Management System (SEMS). Emergency Operations Centers (EOC) at all levels of government have adopted or are moving toward adopting these standards.
Various agencies have been established to provide information and assistance in mitigation actions. The Division of Mines and Geology offer community planners information for evaluating the safety of new construction through their Seismic Hazard Mapping Program. The Seismic Safety Commission's Executive Order Report and the California Earthquake Loss Reduction Plan consider social science as a factor in disaster mitigation. The Association of Bay Area Governments provide studies that guide emergency planning. Their Internet-based seismic shaking maps are color-coded and are easy for the general public to understand.
Organizations such as the California Emergency Services Association (CESA) and local emergency management organizations provide continuing education and participate in a state-wide information system. Several cities have developed retrofitting programs to assist residential homeowners in seismic retrofitting their homes. These programs include financial incentives, seismic retrofit training and tool lending libraries. The reduced damage suffered in the recent Seattle earthquake is evidence that these retrofit programs payoff.
The road ahead is still long and rough. We need to smooth out some of the bumps and straighten some of the curves. Residents of our communities can continue to increase their knowledge and improve their skills through organizations such as CERT while working to propagate disaster preparedness throughout their neighborhoods."
Original article by Bob Walker in the June 2001 Issue of the Huntington Beach, CA CERT Newsletter. The Huntington Beach Fire Department CERT Program is the recipient of the League of California Cities Award for Excellence.