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SURVIVAL BEGINS AT HOME WHEN EARTHQUAKE HITS : FAMILY PLAN IS CRITICAL.

Byline: Karen Thacker Daily News Community Columnist

Earthquake preparedness, like so much we must learn in life, begins at home.

Unless individuals prepare their homes, families and businesses for a major earthquake, the disaster would be multiplied, local officials say.

Antelope Valley emergency services would be stretched to the limit, and nobody could count on getting immediate help. Even children in a classroom whose ceiling collapsed might not be at the top of the priority list.

``We would have to assess what is the most life-threatening situation,'' said Sgt. Mike Becker, disaster-preparedness coordinator for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

A person with a badly injured arm or even with chest pains and other signs of a heart attack might not get immediate care from anyone except family or neighbors.

``Unfortunately, the needs of thousands outweigh the needs of a few,'' said Becker, explaining that a mass-injury scene likely would get higher priority.

Local officials have been updating their disaster-preparedness plans and urging others to do the same for their homes and businesses during April, the state's designated Earthquake Awareness Month.

All family members should know what areas to avoid and where to find the safest spots in the home. Emergency supplies should be handy and fresh. Those with health conditions requiring medication, such as diabetics taking insulin, should have an up-to-date supply available.

The American Red Cross will provide any family with a pamphlet on making disaster plans, choosing contents of an emergency-supply kit and helping children cope with catastrophe. Local businesses and industries can also get an earthquake-preparedness list and suggestions for review.

Local school districts already have started their annual review of earthquake preparedness on campus.

On April 1, faculty and students held earthquake ``duck and cover'' drills. District officials conducted their own search-and-rescue drill. Results were later reviewed.

``It's a good process to let schools know what went right and what went wrong,'' said Giovanni Simi, disaster-preparedness chairman for Lancaster schools.

Plans call for others at each school to know how to shut off the gas, for example, in case maintenance personnel were not available, and for each classroom to be equipped with a kit, usually called the orange bag, containing first-aid supplies and a crowbar.

``We have some schools that are very well prepared and others that aren't quite there yet,'' said Simi, noting the review process is continuing.

The local American Red Cross, located in an 18-month-old building near Plant 42, would help disaster victims with basic needs for food, clothing and shelter.

Red Cross updates process

In the local Red Cross, a recent revision of the preparedness plan has been overseen by Fran Stewart, the executive director; Bud Reams, the disaster committee chairman; and Edith Carney, who chairs the board of directors.

Upon reviewing reports of needs from the Sheriff's Department, the trio of Red Cross officials would give assignments to subcommittees. Volunteers are trained to assess disaster effects on housing - not from the perspective of engineers looking for structural damage, but to estimate how many people will need emergency shelter, Stewart said.

Depending on need, the Red Cross might open as many as five types of emergency shelters or service centers: a general shelter and possibly as many as four others; a shelter, with at least one registered nurse there, for people with medical problems; and other sites for healthy singles, families and people with pets. Sites may include schools, community centers or churches. Water, coffee and doughnuts would be the initial supplies. Facilities with kitchens would be used when meals were needed. The Red Cross keeps about 200 cots and blankets that could be sent to a shelter in an emergency.

``It would get us started,'' Stewart said.

Other supplies could be flown in, she said. An industrial plant's runway or even makeshift landing strips could be used.

The local Red Cross has 600 volunteers responsible for disaster work in a region of 4,300 square miles - from the China Lake Naval Station through a portion of the Angeles National Forest, as well as from Gorman to the San Bernardino County line.

Staying in a shelter with strangers can be emotionally uncomfortable, so disaster-relief workers advise being prepared to stay at home if possible.

``It's comfortable at home, so you prepare at home,'' Stewart said.

Safe bottled water and food supplies are easy to have ready for an emergency. When eating canned or packaged food from the emergency supply before freshness dates expire, for example, just replace that food with the same thing for use in a disaster. ``You need to be able to take care of your own,'' Stewart said, advising that some other supplies are needed, too.

The Red Cross offers training in first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and even in baby-sitting. Skills and knowledge need to be updated periodically. Treatments that were once thought to be acceptable, such as using butter on burns, have been replaced with better methods.

Cities preparing for disaster

Palmdale and Lancaster each has a city disaster-preparedness coordinator, as does the Sheriff's Department.

In February about 30 local, state and federal agencies reviewed how they would work together in an emergency. There is a master list of 24-hour business and home telephones for leaders in all the agencies, Becker said, for speedy contact in an emergency.

Law-enforcement officers would immediately check how key facilities - such as dams, roads, hospitals and airplane landing strips - withstood an earthquake.

Officers might need to drive past a traffic-collision scene, for example, to assess a dam that, if starting to fail, could flood thousands needing advance warning, Becker said.

Sheriff's officials would move into their Emergency Operations Center for disaster communication services. The department would rely on help from ham radio operators if regular communications systems failed.

Local officials will prioritize immediate needs and also determine what state or federal help to seek.

Don't become complacent

After the Northridge Earthquake in 1994, Antelope Valley residents were anxious about their own preparations for similar disaster, Becker said. But as time goes by, people tend to relax and not review or update emergency plans.

``After a year, things start to taper off, and it's at the back of your mind,'' he said. After three years, memories move further back in mind.

So Becker said just remembering an annual observance, Earthquake Preparedness Month in April, is an easy way to keep planning fresh.

``After a major earthquake, be prepared to take care of yourself for at least eight hours - and even a full day,'' Becker advised.

Sheriff's Department, Red Cross offer tips

on surviving temblor

Following are some of the suggestions from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the American Red Cross for preparing to survive a major earthquake:

Develop a family plan

Decide where your family can reunite if separated.

Be familiar with the safe spots in each room, so you can seek protection under sturdy tables and desks or against inside walls. Note danger spots to avoid such as windows, mirrors, hanging objects and tall, unsecured furniture.

Know where the gas, water and electricity turnoff sites are located and how to shut them off.

Secure water heaters and appliances.

Maintain emergency food and water (a three-day supply). Create a survival kit and include a flashlight, portable battery-operated radio, extra batteries, prescription medicine, first-aid supplies, clothing and sanitation needs.

A small kit should also be placed in each vehicle.

Keep first aid and CPR knowledge up to date.

After an earthquake

Check yourself and those around you for injuries. Don't move seriously injured persons unless they are in immediate danger.

Check for utility leaks and broken electrical or sewage lines. Survey the house for cracks and signs of damage.

Check water and food supplies. Remember emergency water can be found in water heaters, melted ice cubes, the toilet tank and canned vegetables.

Use a portable radio for instructions and news reports.

Do not drive your car unless necessary. Roads need to be clear for emergency vehicles.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 14, 1997
Words:1340
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