County gets update on disaster preparedness

A radiation release at Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, a large wildfire and a tsunami are several disaster scenarios in which San Luis Obispo County residents could be asked to evacuate their homes.

County supervisors Tuesday reviewed response plans for those emergencies in light of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that caused a disaster at a nuclear power plant in Japan.

Large-scale evacuations would require significant coordination between county emergency services and state and local police, said Kelly Van Buren, county emergency services planner.

Emergency services coordinators have a variety of tools available for notifying the public that evacuations are imminent.

The main one is a network of 131 warning sirens arrayed in areas around the county that would notify the public to tune into radio stations for instructions.

Others are a “reverse 911” phone system and sending out patrol cars to announce evacuations over loud speakers, Van Buren said.

In the event of a large-scale emergency, detectives and corrections officers could be called upon to double and even triple the amount of resources available, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said. Keeping Highways 101 and 1 open would be a major consideration.

Evacuations would be done in phases in order to prevent gridlock on roads and highways in the county, said Ron Alsop, county emergency services coordinator. Tow trucks and other vehicles would be deployed to remove wrecks and keep traffic moving.

No one can be forced to evacuate against their will, Van Buren said. Some people might choose to shelter in place in the event of a radiation release.

The prolonged nature of the nuclear disaster in Japan caused veteran local-government observer Eric Greening to question the viability of that strategy.

“For how long are we expected to shelter in place?” he asked, referring to the suggested practice of staying put indoors immediately following an emergency.

County supervisors plan to have regular updates on emergency preparedness as more information about the disaster in Japan becomes available.

For more information, go to www.slocounty.ca.gov/ OES.htm.