Last Saturday I attended a Disaster Awareness Course arranged by the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council.
The three hour presentation covered the basics of what to do in case of earthquake, fire, or other emergency, including what to put into an earthquake supply kit, how and when to shut off a gas line. Most importantly, though, was fireman Jarvis “Bubba” Willis insistence that in a worst case scenario that emergency crews “ain’t coming to help you.” If a disaster strikes city wide, resources are not only thin, but movement through the city may be restricted and communication lines cut off. So, learn to fend for yourself.
The most disturbing part of the presentation was a video Willis showed of the Oakland Hills/Kirkwood fire in 1991. After the fire was believed to have been over, hotspots struck back up, leaving little notice for evacuations. Smoke from the fires caused some cars to stall, forcing people to have to outrun the spreading fire. I could only imagine the same scenario in the Hollywood Hills, where the roads are even more narrow, and many people selfishly ignore Red Flag warnings. (if anyone knows which video I’m referring to and has a link to an online version or download, please leave a link in the comments).
Besides giving these presentations, Willis is also actively involved in CERT training programs, working as a fireman in Sherman Oaks, and also covering firefighter duties at Disneyland (even the Mouse recognizes the superiority of LAFD over Anaheim’s fire department).
Here are eight more things I learned during the presentation:
- It took less than 24 hours for the LAFD to send teams to New York City to assist in 9/11 rescue and recovery efforts traveling on board military C41s, but over 48 hours to send teams to New Orleans to help after Hurricane Katrina, as they had to drive. No military transport was available due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- The safest places to evacuate to to avoid raging fires include cemeteries and golf courses.
- Red Cross and other evacuation centers have no screening – including checking incoming victims against Megan’s Law lists. If you have children, you should plan ahead for possible other evacuation spots.
- Pool water is never, ever to be used as drinking water, no matter how you treat it. And by ever, that means never.
- While your emergency kit should include 1 gallon of water per person for at least four days, don’t store it on concrete. “The concrete will leech chemicals into the water, contaminating it and also degrading the plastic bottle, causing failure.” (from the LAFD Emergency Preparedness booklet, .pdf)
- If you up early enough at Staples Center before a game you can watch their evacuation plan broadcast on the video monitors. Willis says its pretty cool.
- One out of every 10 new extinguishers will fail, so have two in your house.
- Firemen don’t carry people out of burning homes. They drag them.
For more info on this and other disaster preparedness programs, check out the CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) homepage.