Local News

Thursday, Jan 31 2013 12:02 PM

Dozens simulate response to dam failure

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Kern County Fire Department Battalion Chief Mike Heffner, left, and Captain Jason Schillinger work on the computer together during Thursday's large scale emergency operations drill at the Emergency Operations Center in Bakersfield along with dozens of others.

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  2. 2 of 3

    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Dozens participate in Thursday's emergency operations center drill in Bakersfield.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, right, and Kern County Fire Cheif Brian Marshall, along with other participants, spend most of Thursday at the Emergency Operations Center during a disaster drill exercise.

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BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer jkotowski@bakersfield.com

It was just before 8:30 a.m. Thursday when crews noticed increased water seepage from and cracks in the Lake Isabella Dam -- caused by an earthquake the day before.

Calls streamed into the Emergency Operations Center on Panorama Drive as an evacuation was planned. One of the first duties of those in the EOC was to get accurate information to the public because rumors were running rampant on Facebook and other social media sites.

Thankfully this was only a drill.

Nonetheless, the Bakersfield and Kern County fire departments, the Kern County Sheriff's Department, Bakersfield police, the American Red Cross and others who participated in the simulation took their duties very seriously as they fielded calls and dealt with updated information.

The simulation marked the first time that both the city and county EOCs operated at full capacity for a drill, Kern County Fire spokesman Sean Collins said.

"The whole idea is to make this as realistic as possible," he said.

To that end, Robert Olson, of emergency management services company Robert Olson Associates, devised a scenario involving the Isabella Dam. Collins said damage to the dam and the possible flooding that could ensue represents the biggest problem in the foreseeable future.

Olson said his company has been working on the scenario for months and used the dam as the focus because of the real concerns emergency responders have about it. He's previously developed drills in connection with terrorism and wildfires.

This drill took place entirely within the Emergency Operations Center, Olson said. Participants simulated materials and people being moved to different areas, but no actual personnel were transferred anywhere.

Examples of the calls participants would receive included requests for sandbags, help to evacuate residents from a senior center and a report of a person suffering a heart attack while evacuating.

The drill lasted until 2 p.m., when an evacuation of Bakersfield was in the works as they anticipated the dam would soon break. Collins said that, overall, the drill was a success because of how everyone worked together.

"For the most part, everyone was on the same page and at the same level," he said.

Collins urged that residents, in the event of an actual disaster, have an evacuation plan ready and a kit prepared containing food, water, medications and other necessary items. He also asked that residents sign up for the Kern County Emergency Alert Program at readykern.com.

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