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August 13, 2008 > County residents and the community need to be prepared

County residents and the community need to be prepared

By Supervisor Pete McHugh, Chair, Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors

Our community and every resident needs to be prepared for the moment when a disaster strikes. The early onset of a disastrous fire season, the 5.4-magnitude Alum Rock earthquake last fall, and the recent 5.6-magnitude earthquake in the Los Angeles area remind us of our vulnerability. Local experts warn that we must be prepared for other emergencies as well, including the possibilities of a pandemic flu, flooding, a chemical emergency or a problem with our water supply. We need to be prepared at home, at work and in our cars.

As Chair of the County of Santa Clara's Disaster Council, I am constantly reminded that the highest priority for residents is to be ready to "shelter-in-place" for several days. Most of the major emergency scenarios will require people to independently take care of themselves, their loved ones, their pets and people with special needs until help arrives. Our County Office of Emergency Services strongly recommends that each household develop a disaster preparedness checklist.

All households should have contingency plans for when no water flows from the faucets, when electricity is off and phone lines are down. They should always have sufficient amounts of water, food, prescription medications, flashlights and a battery-operated radio with extra batteries on hand. Residents should also be ready to survive at work or when temporarily stranded in their cars. Warm clothes and blankets are some of the additional items people should have readily available to safely survive until they are able to get home.

When all forms of electronic communication may be down, a person's highest priority will be meeting up with loved ones. Hopefully each family already knows where it will be meeting and who the family's out-of-area contact will be. Families often overlook this vital component of their preparedness planning.

In addition, every resident should check their home for potential risks. Water heaters should be secure. Everyone should know how to turn off the gas main. People should not sit or sleep where heavy objects can fall from walls or shelves when we know falling objects are the greatest danger during an earthquake.

Since I have been on the Board of Supervisors, the county has taken many actions to make our community better prepared. We completed a comprehensive Operational Area Emergency Operations Plan and established a disaster logistics support center to stock emergency supplies. Currently, we are proceeding to implement a mass communication system which notifies residents when an emergency, incident or hazard occurs in their area. This alert system will have the capability of calling mobile and landline phones, sending text and e-mail messages, and using other forms of broadcast communications.

The county's Office of Emergency Services (OES) and the Public Health Department have produced some excellent information to help residents become prepared. This information is readily available on the county's Web site (www.sccgov.org) and on many other Web sites. Residents may also contact the county's OES at 408-808-7800. To sign up as a volunteer to assist during emergencies, contact the Volunteer Center of Silicon Valley at 408-247-1126, or visit the center's Web site (www.vcsv.us).

We do not have to live in fear of earthquakes and other disasters. We simply need to face reality and be prepared. So please create a check list, prepare your home and be ready to "shelter-in-place." Thank you for your efforts in becoming prepared.

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