The Coastal Post - January, 1996

Marin Unprepared For Disaster

BY JOAN REUTINGER

The 1995 Grand Jury has come up with a most disturbing report on disaster readiness. In their 1995 report they state, "The single most important finding is that most residents in Marin County are not prepared to deal with a major disaster. Many apparently believe that somehow they will be rescued. In fact, communities may become isolated with no immediate help available. To put it bluntly, those who are prepared will be the most likely to survive."

The jury cited the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) located in the Civic Center as vulnerable to damage during a severe earthquake or fire. They said that "The antennas for vital communications are located on the roof several floors away, with the resultant potential for electrical or structural failure of both the antennas and their connecting cables in an earthquake."

The report recommends that aerial observers, such as the Sheriffs Volunteer Air Patrol, fly regularly on Red Flag (extreme fire alert) days. Such patrols would likely be used in a major emergency. (There is no mention of Hamilton Field being used for aircraft.)

However, the report says that, "Communications between the local police/fire departments and the public are not universally in good order. Several types are in use such as: 1) sirens 2) emergency or direct broadcasting/cable such as commercial TV/radio, 3) single-purpose emergency radio stations and 4) individual telephones and CTS radios. (There is no mention TV stations off the air due to power failure.)

Of the Mt. Vision fire, the report said that while the "system generally worked well, it was noted there were several complaints that the siren could not be heard, and that the siren failed to continue operation due to the fire affecting the electrical supply system."

Under the heading "Emergency Transportation" is noted, "Local community street problems are primarily related to overcrowded narrow and/or one-way streets." (This is particular the case in West Marin.) Of course, downed power lines endanger evacuation. They commended the construction of underground power lines such as is now happening on Sir Francis Drake Blvd.

"The future use of the railroad right-of-way for public transportation could be of significant aid in an emergency," the report states. (There is no mention of West Marin in this connection, as Muir Beach, Stinson Beach and Bolinas never had railways, and Pt. Reyes Station, which used to be a train stop, uses the station as a post office, while most of the line from here on is discarded.)

Fire hazards for individual residents can be reduced by vegetation management, but there is "varying degrees of enforcement by local fire departments. In many cases the penalty for non-compliance is less than the cost of compliance."

Under the heading of "Water-flow Capacity" the districts are cited for water mains that may be undersized and using equipment with differing dimensions, which may or may not be used by various fire departments. The report commends the MMWD, which recently formed a Fire Flow Advisory Committee with representatives from the various communities involved, and has authorized a new budget item for $1 million per year to work on high priority items.

Under the heading "Emergency Supplies" the Grand Jury says that supplies should be on hand to provide for 72 hours before more can be brought in from the outside. (West Marin residents may like to plan for at least a week, because all the roads may be blocked by fallen trees, and in earthquakes, landslides.)

"First response emergency services are provided by the newly-formed Urban Search and Rescue Team, with one branch located in the Civic Center and one branch located in West Marin. (West Marin is a fairly large place, and so far we have seen no Search and Rescue teams except on hunts for people missing on Mt. Tam.)

The report ends by saying, "The public's apathy about this subject leads to a need for a much stronger outreach programs on the part of all agencies involved. There is no centralized information source/system; much duplication exists among these groups. Further, such an outreach program needs top-level leadership to provide both a great stimulus to the public and the involvement of more volunteers, as well as reliance on paid public employees."