The Coastal Post - February, 1997

Grand Jury Worried About Apathy To Emergency Needs

BY JOAN REUTINGER

The news of flooding in the California central valley brings pictures of families devastated, and farms and homes destroyed. Besides all the clothing, momentos and family pictures lost in the flood, one cannot but think of the fate of the dogs, cats, wildlife, cows, horses and poultry left behind. Although some dogs were rescued, nothing about cats was in the news; and although we saw a few dead cows, there are nothing about wildlife.

All of this brings special poignancy to the 1996 Grand Jury Environment Committee report on the lack of disaster preparedness in Marin County. The report's introduction states, "Marin is a high-risk county that at any time could be devastated by fire, earthquake, or flood, " and predicting much greater loss of life and property from an earthquake than previously suggested. Previous Grand Jury studies state that most residents of Marin County are not prepared to deal with a major disaster, and this Grand Jury concurs.

"There is a need at the highest political level of the County Board of Supervisors for proactive leadership to fulfill legal and moral responsibilities to prepare the citizens of Marin for a major disaster.

"There is a need for an expanded Office of Emergency Services to coordinate and support efforts of cities, agencies public and private, unincorporated areas and neighborhood groups, which are now fragmented and attempting to increase awareness and reduce the apathy of the general public."

Of course, all of this takes money, but when our very lives are at stake, you would think the supervisors would at least worry. They must, to fulfill the legal and moral responsibilities of their jobs. We know that money is scarce, but there seems to always be some slush fund available for some other cause, so maybe they will find it for this very worthy cause.

Of course, we can prepare for disaster, but our efforts will be futile unless we have proper direction and coordination. And the report goes on, "The County Emergency Operations Center is located in the basement of the unreinforced portion of the Civic Center. It has overhead sewer lines and ventilation ducts which may collapse in the event of a major earthquake. The Office of Emergency Services is not located in the Operations Center, but in a building several blocks away. Previous Grand Juries (1995 in particular) have recommended removal of the Emergency Operations Center from the Civic Center. No action has been taken to relocate this vital command and communications center."

Grand Jury reports are usually ignored. For instance, since 1989, Marin Grand Juries have been recommending action to prepare the county for major fires. It was only this year that the measure finally got on the ballot, and only for MMWD water users. Major fires do not recognize political boundaries, and all the citizens of Marin would be affected if a conflagration such as the Oakland/Berkeley or the Inverness fire should occur.

There are all sorts of emergencies that would be covered by the California Emergency Services Act. Marin County even has its own County Code 2.99.01-06 which provides for the "implementation of plans for the protection of persons and property in the event of a disaster." But the fact that it has all of these numbers after its name shows its relative importance.

The report states that the county should select a supervisor who "is particularly proactive in disaster planning as Chairman of the Disaster Council," and they recommend that he take training offered by state and federal disaster agencies, and appoint a mayor (or fire chief in unincorporated areas) to meet on a regular schedule and report back to the public on a regular basis. "Marin County emergency services should be organized on the same basis as other Bay Area counties, which have recently experienced catastrophic fires and earthquakes." Neighborhood disaster training is recommended. The American Red Cross, California's State Office of Emergency Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and emergency management consultants all agree that neighborhood groups are vitally important to an emergency program.

Earthquakes happen without warning, floods come in wintertime and fires in autumn. Be prepared. And let's set a fire under the county to do something,!