OCEANSIDE — How is the city prepared in the event of a disaster?
Natural disasters are on the minds of many Southern Californians, particularly those directly affected by the recent earthquakes that struck in San Bernardino County in early July.
Fire season is also approaching, and though it has been slightly delayed by this past winter’s excessive rainfall, many are concerned about the extra vegetation growth becoming additional fire fuel.
The city has to be prepared for the worst, but it also has to have a plan for how it can reduce the impact a disaster has on residents, how it responds to the disaster when it occurs and how to help the city recover in the aftermath.
According to Fire Division Chief David Parsons, disaster preparedness is an “ongoing cycle of preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery.”
The city, county and state governments all have emergency plans in place for disasters, and they all revolve around the preparedness, mitigation, response and recovery aspects of disaster preparedness.
Actions like stocking medical supplies, food and having a plan for taking shelter are all part of the preparedness phase.
Parsons explained the mitigation aspect of disaster preparedness includes things like levees along the San Luis Rey River that prevent or minimize impacts of flooding, or state regulations requiring earthquake- and fire-proof features in newly constructed buildings.
For the city, the response aspect of disaster preparedness means city leaders, fire, police and public works must come together to make decisions on how to help residents to safety and ultimately save lives.
“We follow federal and state standards for incident management and emergency response,” Parsons said.
During a disaster, the city may activate its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) where city leaders can give policy decisions on how to handle the situation. The city exercises its EOC in City Hall on at least an annual basis, and its priority is to save lives, according to Parsons.
“Think of it as a support center,” Parsons said.
The EOC may not necessarily be in the same location each time a disaster strikes. For example, if a tsunami hits Oceanside, keeping the EOC in City Hall wouldn’t work. The EOC would need to be located further inland.
The last time the city’s EOC was activated during a real emergency was during the Lilac fire a few years ago. The center was open for just over three days.
The city also sets up shelters when a widespread disaster strikes. For example, Oceanside High School sheltered hundreds of people during the Lilac fire.
The city recommends that residents stay informed as much as possible throughout an emergency situation like a fire or earthquake by tuning into the TV or radio. Another way to stay tuned in is by using the SDEmergency app, which warns county residents about potential flooding, fires, earthquake damage and other emergencies that could affect them.
The app also provides information on how to be prepared in case of a disaster and recovery resources.
While the city has its own responsibilities to ensuring its residents are safe during disasters, residents are advised to make their own preparations as well.
The city has a webpage dedicated to planning for a disaster to strike before it actually happens, and recommends preparing for the first 72 hours following a disaster.
The San Diego County Office of Emergency Services has developed a Family Master Plan and Personal Survival Guide to help families plan for a disaster. The guide suggests that families meet at least once a year to update their plans and catch everyone up to speed on what to do.
During large-scale emergencies, first responders are often busily responding to emergencies throughout town.
Rhonda Deniston, program manager of the Oceanside Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), wants residents to be ready for when help doesn’t arrive.
“Help is not coming,” Deniston said. “We have to learn how to help ourselves and help our neighbors.”
Oceanside CERT is a program that teaches people how to respond in the event of a disaster: what items are needed in emergency kits as well as basic fire safety, medical information, triage skills and disaster psychology.
The program was originally started by the Oceanside Fire Department in 2005 and is currently authorized as a program by the fire department as well as the San Diego County Unified Disaster Council and the San Diego County CERT Council. There are 31 CERT programs in San Diego County, including Oceanside’s.
According to its website, the program has trained more than 600 community members and city employees. Of that number, nearly 100 of those volunteers are active and continue to attend training sessions and participate in outreach events.
Oceanside CERT offers two academies each year in March and April. Those who are interested in signing up can contact Oceanside.CERT@gmail.com.
Oceanside CERT also conducted the first Spanish Academy in the county and recently started a high school CERT program.
“It shows you that these kids are learning disaster preparedness and taking that information home to their families,” Deniston said.
Deniston said the American Red Cross was stretched very thinly at shelters when the Lilac fire happened, but CERT members were activated and stepped in to help.
“You may not be doing emergency response, but you’re helping the community,” Deniston said. “I had never been to a shelter before, and it really opened my eyes about humanity and what a difference we were making.”
Samantha Nelson covers Oceanside, Camp Pendleton and the decommissioning San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. She earned her journalism degree from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and has previously reported for The Athens Messenger in Athens, Ohio, and USA Today in McLean, Virginia. Follow her on Twitter: @samm1son