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Are you ready? County-wide earthquake test raises the question

October 19, 2012

It’s a scenario most of us living in the Eastern Sierra have thought of at least once.

It’s a dark winter day, cold and snowy. The ground begins to shake, houses rattle and shudder. This is no 3.5 or 4.2 magnitude earthquake—this is serious.

The roads buckle and access to Mammoth is disrupted in both directions.

The lights go out—and stay out. There is no electricity for a few days. No electricity means no cell phones, no Internet, no television, no heat, no restaurants, and no grocery stores with unlimited refrigeration or supplies.

Help will come, of course, from north and south, flying in via plane and helicopter, but there’s only so much help that can come in those first days. And when it does get here, those most in need—the old, the injured, the lost and missing—will demand the limited resources.

The question arises: how long could you survive in your own home without help?

How would you get your news, your water, your food, your medicine, your pet’s medicine, your elderly father’s medicine?

Living in Mono County, having to answer that question is a matter of when—not if.

Next month, on Nov. 15, the county, the state, and other local agencies and organizations that could be involved in an emergency will come together to run a day-long test of this exact scenario.

The groups completed a preview last week—a “tabletop” simulation to iron out as many possible problems in advance.

It’s an annual ritual for the hospital, county, police, school district, and many more. It’s designed to troubleshoot and refine the best possible way to take care of the public, and it’s done every year, mostly unknown to the public.

And for good reason. It’s these agencies' job.

But do you want your lack of preparedness to be the reason someone who really desperately needs help doesn’t get it?

“The standard is you should be ready for a 48- to 72-hour period without any support,” said Dr. Rick Johnson, the county’s public health officer. “But here, that really should be more like a week.”

That gets even more imperative if you don’t live in Mammoth Lakes, where no matter what happens, there will likely still be other people nearby to help out in an emergency. But Mono County’s far-flung settlements and residents are another story.

In mostly rural Mono County, an extra cord of wood, a generator, enough bottled water, or a way to purify it could be come a matter of life and death.

Even as technology becomes more sophisticated and medicine more effective, reliance on that technology—think electricity-hungry computers and cell phones instead of old-fashioned landlines and hand-cranked radios—makes people more vulnerable than ever.

Johnson suggests each household in the county creates an emergency kit that includes enough food, water, and medical supplies to last for days without electricity (visit www.ready.gov).

For Mammoth, in winter, the kit must contain enough sleeping bags or warm clothes to weather cold days in any residence with no wood stove or fireplace. Solar battery packs are a good idea for charging cell phones and laptops in a prolonged electrical outage, and solar-powered and/or hand-cranked emergency radios are inexpensive—about $50—and can be critical in emergencies.

Equally important is an emergency communications plan.

“Figuring how to communicate with separated family members is vital,” he said. “Cell phones rely on batteries which will die if not recharged. Information comes through the Internet, which also could be disrupted and is subject to electric power availability. Finding a reliable way to communicate, say with a solar charger for your devices, is critical. Buying an emergency hand-cranked radio so you can listen for instructions and information can be one of the most effective things you can do to take care of yourself.
In Mammoth, we have volunteers trained to respond door-to-door (Community Emergency Response Teams CERT) and let people know what to do in an emergency. But outside of Mammoth is another story.”

So as every agency in the county gears up for that Nov. 15 test, maybe it’s time to ask the question.

Are you ready?

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