Making do after a major community emergency


Gone are the gruesome days of yesteryear, when "horse thief" referred to someone who sneaked up to a hitching rail or into a corral and rode off on the back of someone else's means of getting around. Today, such ne'er-do-wells are more likely to wait for a wildfire or earthquake that empties barns and stables, then carry off their prizes behind a pickup truck.

"Horse thievery is still present. People come with trailers and say 'That one and that one and that one'" and drive off with other people's horses, said Stephanie Trewhitt, a member of the local Disaster Animal Rescue Team (DART). She was referring to a post-disaster scenario in which rescued horses are tended by emergency workers who are uninformed as to their owners.

It doesn't have to be that way, she said. Ms. Trewhitt was speaking on May 30 to town council members of Woodside and Portola Valley about the value, in these two equestrian-friendly towns, of participating in a database that includes photos of domestic animals with their owners and, to further identify them, records of microchips embedded under the animals' skins.

The database is a work in progress by the Citizens Emergency Response Preparedness Program, a 14-year-old project of volunteers who attempt to educate residents and prepare them for disasters. The initiative focuses on Woodside, Portola Valley and unincorporated communities such as Los Trancos Woods, Vista Verde, Ladera and Emerald Hills.

Also serving these communities is the Woodside Fire Protection District, and Chief Dan Ghiorso was on hand to give the councils a summary of firefighting and evacuation drills held in mid-April. Resident participation in the evacuation drill did not meet expectations, Chief Ghiorso said.

Vulnerable area

Resident participation is a bugaboo, for CERPP as well as the fire district. Of the district's 16,500 residents, between 700 and 1,000 are trained CERPP volunteers, with about 45 added yearly, spokeswoman Gaylynne Mann said for a 2011 story.

With volunteer participation at 5 percent, residents may be more vulnerable than they think. There will be no large public works department with bulldozers and dump trucks coming to the rescue, noted CERPP spokesman John Carnes. And firefighters and police are independent agencies, on contract with the towns but with responsibilities beyond their borders.

Not only that, but regional relief agencies will probably focus on communities with greater damage, cities with multi-story apartments that have collapsed on to basement carports, for example, Mr. Carnes said.

Residents of Woodside and Portola Valley live in single-family homes, many built to withstand seismic shocks. State and federal agencies "will look for where the greatest need is, and it's not going to be here," Mr. Carnes said.

Woodside Mayor Dave Tanner said residents should plan to be on their own for two weeks.

Asked by email to comment, Mr. Carnes noted that immediate priorities -- critically injured or trapped people and burning fires -- will be "self-limiting: fires go out and seriously injured people die without treatment."

The infrastructure we rely on every day -- electricity, drinking water, natural gas and telecommunications -- will likely be out of service for at least a week, he said.

"They aren't going to work and it's not just going to be for the afternoon," Mr. Carnes told the councils. "(Residents) will be really grumpy about it and it's going to be hard, quite frankly."

A 2002 report (Hetch Hetchy Water and the Bay Area Economy) predicts that following a major earthquake, all Bay Area households would be without water service for 20 days, that 20 percent would be without it for 30 days, and that full restoration would take 35 to 40 days, Mr. Carnes said.

CERPP has nine strategically located 40-foot shipping containers filled with disaster-related items of necessity, including cots, blankets, flashlights, tools, etc. The group invested $40,000 in 110 trauma kits that volunteers assembled and keep fresh, and $70,000 in radios, including 110 for neighborhood use.

Animal "micro-chipping" costs $25 for a dog or cat and $45 for a horse, according to the DART web page. There are plans to put the animal database and animal registration online. "Doing this right, taking the proper precautions to protect the personal information provided, is a big task and not one that we are even predicting a launch date for yet," Mr. Carnes said in an email.

Go to CERPP for more information.

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