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Tuesday, Apr 01 2014 02:00 PM

DOUG GREENER: Now's the time to prepare for earthquakes

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Bakersfield fire chief Doug Greener.

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BY DOUG GREENER Contributing columnist

My annual earthquake awareness message usually comes during September's Disaster Preparedness Month, but with the recent activity in Southern California, I thought a mid-point primer was in order. But no one in this state should need much of a reminder that the earth moves itself here in violent, random and scary ways.

The two most recent earthquakes, one centered near the Westwood area of Los Angeles, and the other in the La Habra area of Orange County, are real-time reminders of the potential for major geological events, caused by faults that lay deep below our homes, roadways and cities. While these two events made the news due to their size and intensity, there were more than 200 earthquakes and related aftershocks in the greater Los Angeles area in the last week alone. Not to mention past prolific events in Loma Prieta, Northridge and others. The potential is there, always.

Hopefully, everyone here realizes this isn't a south-of-the-grapevine phenomenon. The 1952 earthquake in Bakersfield registered 7.3 on the Richter scale, killed 12 people, twisted rails and cracked roads, and did more than $60 million in damage. Numerous unreinforced masonry structures in the central area were damaged beyond repair, including City Hall, which had to be housed at Bakersfield Fire Department Headquarters for more than a year. There are 13 active fault lines that run near enough to the greater Bakersfield area to be of concern. The sky isn't falling, but we all need to be vigilant and aware of the potential and ready to respond to and survive the reality.

The Bakersfield Fire Department has been advocating for earthquake preparedness for as long as I can remember. Preparedness is a key supporting component to the local and statewide emergency response systems.

The Bakersfield Fire Department continues to prepare for major event responses, and puts its resources and the Fire Operations Center on precautionary alert even when events occur elsewhere. The City of Bakersfield continues to develop local procedures, based on state emergency response plans, including activation of the citywide Emergency Operations Center functioning under Standardized Emergency Management System and National Incident Management System guidelines.

But even more important is personal preparedness. Past events have shown that fire departments, law enforcement agencies, emergency medical services and even FEMA can be taxed when disasters demand resources beyond day-to-day response capabilities. In spite of our significant training, deployments and best efforts, the initial response during a major event may not address every lower-priority request within the first 72 hours.

Three days with limited outside assistance is a significant time, and means individuals, families and businesses all need to plan to be self-sufficient during that period. The key is to begin preparing now, including building an earthquake preparedness kit, which should include these basic items, among many others:

* water and purifier

* food and cooktop

* flashlights, phones, radios and batteries

* tent, blankets and sleeping bag

* first aid kit

* fire extinguisher

* medications, pet food and other special needs

* documents and cash

* tools, utensils and matches

* clothing and shoes

The process is fairly simple, and there are many resources at the community's disposal to assist with building an earthquake kit. Useful websites including www.ready.gov and www.shakeout.org provide guidance, information and numerous recommendations. The BFD Emergency Preparedness Guide is also available, free of charge, at city fire stations.

There are additional resources on the Internet that also provide very important tips on what to do during an active earthquake. At a minimum, everyone should know and practice the "Drop, Cover and Hold" drill. Again, the key to survival will be choosing to not be unnecessary victims, but instead educated and trained earthquake veterans with plenty of planning.

On behalf of the men and women of the Bakersfield Fire Department, I respectfully ask everyone to please help protect themselves by engaging in earthquake preparedness planning. Together, let's all be ready and resilient when the earth moves!

Doug Greener is chief of the Bakersfield Fire Department. These are his opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.

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