Photos by Stephen K. Peeples (studio) & Will Davison (field)
If you’re into numbers, today was your lucky day.
We didn’t have an earthquake, but at 10:20 (on 10/20) nearly 9 million people across the state of California dropped to the ground, covered their heads and held on to furniture or walls during the world’s largest earthquake drill, the Great California ShakeOut.
The walls may not have shook, but the rumbling was loud and long in the KHTS AM1220 studio and staff hugged the ground – even the on-air deejay, George Cummings, who ducked under the control console for cover.
City Emergency Services Manager Donna Nuzzi joined Cummings in the studio and Mayor Marsha McLean called in to count down the seconds before the drill. McLean recalled her training as a preparedness instructor, which helped during the 1994 Northridge quake and Nuzzi talked about the variety of resources available on websites, from the City of Santa Clarita, Los Angeles County and the California Office of Emergency Services.
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Out in the community, school children ducked under their desks or made orderly lines out onto the blacktop and medical offices ran through their emergency procedures. At the Sheriff’s Department, Sgt. Richard Nagler said that they kicked into rehearsal mode when they heard the “rumbling.”
“We made an announcement in the station and told staff to locate an area that was safe and make sure they knew where the exits were,” he said. “Units in the field reviewed their crucial facilities (such as schools and other public buildings) which they would actually visit if the situation was real.”
Up at the Del Valle Training Center in Val Verde, firefighters took the ShakeOut as an opportunity to re-certify the members of the Urban Search and Rescue Task Force.
“What we’ve done is set up five different simulations of collapsed structures which will replicate different parts of scenarios our task force team has seen throughout its deployment in Japan, New Zealand and Haiti,” explained Inspector Matt Levesque. “What we try to do is run a lifelike scenario, where first an engine company comes in, evaluates the whole scenario, asks for appropriate resources and then over the course of the next 10 hours, they will deploy their units and tools, working as a USAR team with the final goal of getting all members of the team out and perform rescues throughout all the scenarios.”
Levesque said that every time the team goes on the road to help a stricken community, they bring back information that will benefit local communities.
“That’s one of the benefits we have of our deployments, we’ve been to different parts of the world, we’ve seen some horrific damage, but we’ve also gained a ton of knowledge that we can use here in LAC in the event we have a disaster here.
“A lot of the USAR task forces in Southern California, including LA City and the Orange County Fire Authority, a lot of times they train together, and the re-certifications they take, they take as a team. The knowledge that we’ve gained through our deployments we share with surrounding departments; not only does it make us a stronger team, but it makes all the teams in the Los Angeles County and Southern California basin stronger as well.”
While training is important, the basic premise of the Great ShakeOut is to remind Californians that preparedness is key. Levesque said that some of the old information also needs to be reevaluated.
“Some of the information that we’ve gathered for the residents of Los Angeles County are from some of the returning members of the task force and what they saw in these cities.,” he said. “One of the most important things people needs to remember is that on our department, Los Angeles County Fire, we have 3,000 active members, badged personnel. At any one time, on any given day, you have about 1,000 firefighters throughout Los Angeles County protecting over 4,000 square miles.
“If we were to have a large scale earthquake disaster here, our resources would be tapped almost immediately. It would really be impossible for us to assist everyone.
People need to understand that they need to be self-sufficient. Many publications say you should be self-sufficient for up to three days, but a lot of our members of the Task Force would say that it’s closer to seven days.”
He also said that firefighters and first responders might be able to help those with serious emergencies, but that people need to have on hand enough food and water for at least a week because going to the store won’t be an easy task.
“Three days comes relatively fast. We may be able to get to you and help you with any emergency needs, but additional resources you’re going to need to survive, including food and water, are going to be difficult to get because most of the infrastructure is going to be lost.”