Imagine that a big storm or other disaster has hit the North Coast. Trees are down, streets are flooded, there’s damage, people are hurt and highways 1 and 46 are closed.
Who will do what after the catastrophe? What should you do? How will you survive until normalcy returns? What will local, county, state and federal officials and agencies do and when?
Knowing ahead of time what to expect and when is essential for residents and business owners, experts stress.
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Those topics and more will be discussed at the next informational forum being cosponsored by the Cambria FireSafe Focus Group and county Fire Safe Council. The forum begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 27, at the Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St.
It starts later in the day than the previous forums so business owners and people who work daytime shifts can attend.
Forum speakers are Ron Alsop, emergency manager for the county, and retired Cal Fire training officer Bruce Fosdike, who led the Feb. 27 forum on how to be ready for wildfire or another emergency.
In a localized crisis, emergency responders can focus on the affected area. Cambrians already know the drill from the all-too-frequent occurrence when a tree goes down and hits a house.
• Treating anybody who is injured, and, if necessary, take them to the hospital.
• Crews cut power to the area and remove the tree.
• When it’s safe, PG&E restores power.
• Workers cover the damaged area to keep the rain out.
• Officials determine whether the home is safe to occupy.
• Cleanup and repairs begin, usually by contractors hired by the homeowner.
However, in a general disaster affecting a larger area, those crews are spread out and spread thin and may not be able to respond to, or even get to, the North Coast as quickly as they and local residents would like.
Alsop said in a March 15 email interview that he’ll cover such topics as what happens if the North Coast is isolated (remember March 1995?), “how public agencies would start to respond to assist, but it may take some time, and local resources are limited.”
He’ll also discuss “the recovery process from the disaster-assistance angle.”
Even after local, regional, statewide and/or federal disaster declarations are issued, “disaster assistance in this day and age is extremely hard to obtain,” he said, “and there is no federal or state program that, in all likelihood, will make one ‘whole’ again from significant damage,” which is why “self-preparedness, including adequate insurance coverage,” is crucial.
In the 1995 flood that inundated Cambria’s West Village with many feet of water and mud, many businesses didn’t have flood insurance. Some of them had to close up shop because they couldn’t afford to reopen or continue.
Fosdike told Focus Group participants March 14 that official emergency-response responsibilities are fairly well established, and that some preliminary organizational meetings have been held for community organizations and individuals.
Many more of those meetings are needed, he said, to be prepared before the disaster strikes and townspeople are stranded.
For instance, Fosdike asked, rhetorically at this point, “How do all the other resources in the community plug into” the recovery effort in such areas as providing fuel, ice and water? How can restaurants provide food if the power is off? He asked, “How will the churches be involved, the tourist board, would motels be used as evacuation centers to house evacuees?”
Cambria Fire Chief William Hollingsworth said March 20 that there’ll be an emergency operation center, likely at the fire station. In the past, volunteers from the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and others have helped to staff the emergency center.
The Cambria Community Services District probably would coordinate repairing infrastructure problems.
Having enough knowledge and supplies to be safely self-sufficient is crucial.
Hollingsworth said, “If we’ve had an earthquake,” firefighters will “be out doing patient care, building assessments, making sure roadways are open and people can get out safely and do what they need to do.”
“It’s entirely possible,” he said, “that there will be a delay in getting emergency and other resources here. To a certain extent, our community has to be self-sufficient for a certain amount of time.”