Local News

Sunday, Sep 23 2012 08:00 PM

DOUG GREENER: Plan now for inevitable disasters

BY DOUG GREENER Contributing columnist

Throughout my career, from firefighter to fire chief, the Bakersfield Fire Department has advanced the message of disaster preparedness. Twenty-five years ago, the BFD campaigned across the city for self-preparation prior to an earthquake, flood or other event. That message remains equally relevant today.

September is National Preparedness Month, and the timing is right for another gentle reminder about the important role self-sufficiency will play during a community-wide major emergency. Preparedness is a key supporting component to the local and statewide emergency response systems, and is a critical element of community resilience in the face of disaster.

Firefighters have learned valuable lessons from major incidents across the state over the decades. Events in urban areas like Bel Air, Loma Prieta, Northridge and the 1952 earthquake here in Bakersfield are the prima-facie case for the California Master Mutual Aid System, the state organized emergency command, control, deployment and support processes for cities, counties and regions.

The Bakersfield Fire Department is now home to state mutual aid resources including Urban Search and Rescue Regional Task Force 11, Heavy USAR 1, Type 1 Hazardous Materials Team 15 and others. The City of Bakersfield continues to develop its local procedures, based on state emergency response plans, including activation of Department Operations Centers, and an Emergency Operations Center functioning under Standardized Emergency Management System and National Incident Management System guidelines.

There are other valuable shared resources available at the county, area, region and state levels as well. And our non-profit and volunteer cooperating partners, including the Kern Chapter of the American Red Cross, Salvation Army and others round out a system of support.

But even with those somewhat complex emergency deployment plans and resources in place, past events have shown that public sector agencies including fire departments, law enforcement agencies, emergency medical services and even FEMA can be outpaced when disasters demand resources well beyond day-to-day response capabilities.

The main point to remember is the need for personal and organizational preparedness. Because in spite of our significant training, deployments and best efforts, the initial response during a major, community-wide event will simply not address every lower-priority request for response within the first 72 hours.

That's a significant timeframe, and up to three days with limited outside assistance means everyone needs to plan to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining during that period. Pre-planning is the key. Plan now for a disaster event and plan as if it's inevitable. The Fire Department operates under the assumption that the day will come when we absolutely will face the reality of a major event.

The key is to plan now, not simply to react after the event occurs, by taking these basic actions:

* Create a disaster plan.

* Plan for 72 hours of limited assistance.

* Practice, review and maintain your disaster plan.

* Create a business continuity and recovery plan.

* Build a disaster kit for home, work and vehicle.

* Prepare children and people with special needs.

* Learn CPR and first aid.

* Eliminate hazards in the home and workplace.

* Don't forget your pets.

* Get involved, volunteer and share responsibility.

The process isn't complicated, and there are many resources to assist. Websites include kernredcross.org, ready.gov and calema.ca.gov. The BFD Emergency Preparedness Guide is also available, free of charge, at city fire stations.

I want to emphasize that first responders and our cooperative partners are continuously engaged in major emergency response planning. That's a never-ending process. However, we strongly encourage everyone to become part of the solution to a local disaster by planning for their own self-sufficiency for at least 72 hours.

On behalf of the men and women of the Bakersfield Fire Department, I respectfully ask everyone to please help protect our community and assist first responders by engaging in disaster preparedness planning. Together, let's all be resilient in the face of disaster!

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

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