False alarm raises questions about preparedness

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

False alarm raises questions about preparednessPictured: Sgt. Justin Dampier (left) and Capt. Ryan Marrone use a map of the city to discuss staging of resources and personnel in the case of an emergency. — Photo by Laura Austin

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After witnessing 1.4 million Hawaiian residents and countless visitors thrown into a state of panic following the false alarm about an incoming intercontinental ballistic missile, some on the mainland have pondered how prepared Californians would be in a similar state of emergency.

Media footage during the 38 minutes that elapsed between the initial alert and the follow-up clarification showed civilians clogging roadways, building makeshift barricades and dropping children into storm drains in a desperate search for shelter.

“What would I do? Where would I go?” one letter-writer asked in last week’s Opinion section. “I and probably the community in general, would be very grateful to have some answers to those questions, along with some guidelines for a nuclear event disaster.”

While pinning down an official answer was tricky in the absence of any regional agency tasked with nuclear readiness, the general consensus among leaders in public safety was that such an extreme situation was almost as impossible to predict, let alone prepare for. (Of course the question of national defense capabilities for interception is a separate, and deeply classified, issue.)

“I can see why people are concerned,” said Capt. Ryan Marrone of the Ridgecrest Police Department, who along with Sgt. Justin Dampier oversees the various emergency-readiness and response groups that are coordinated through the department.

“When we saw what was happening in Hawaii, people were basically running to nowhere.”

“As far as the nuclear threat goes, it’s important to remember that defense technology has improved a great deal since the days when air-raid drills were common practice,” said Dampier.

“But the most important thing to remember, in terms of the greater good, is that panic will make any situation worse.”

Fortunately for residents of the Indian Wells Valley, hundreds of volunteers have been collaborating, training and educating the public for years to ensure that we are as prepared as we can be.

“Anchored by the Ridgecrest Police Department, your community leads the way in disaster preparedness,” Georgianna Arm-strong, emergency services manager for Kern County, told the News Review in a recent interview.

“Yours is by far the most active, mature group in the entire county.”

“If there is a localized disaster, the first thing to remember is that we are remote,” said Dampier. “What would you do if you could not leave the area, and had to take care of your family here?”

He said that “sheltering in place” is one of the first principles to keep in mind. “What would you do if there was a fire, and earthquake, or a riot, and you couldn’t leave your home or business? You need a personal plan for your family.”

While water, food and fuel are obvious goods to stock in the event of an emergency, Marrone added that a likely outcome in a disaster is a temporary loss of power.

“As technology has advanced, so has our system of alerts. But that has also created an increased dependency on our technological devices,” said Marrone.

“Think about not having your cell phone or the Internet. You wouldn’t even be able to dial 9-1-1. So you really need to have a communication plan ahead of time.”

A communication plan should include coordination within family about where to meet in the event of an emergency and a written copy of numbers and other important information in case cell service is out.

“Visualize what you would do in a given situation, and think about what you would need to prepare ahead of time,” said Marrone.

“One of the first things people will think of in an emergency is uniting with their kids,” said Dampier.

“But remember, schools have great processes for disasters. It may be better not to rush out to get them right away.”

During an emergency, he said, this is one of the ways that panic can exacerbate the situation. “It’s like when we have a traffic accident. When we arrive on scene, our first duty — even before we get to the victims — is to make sure we have done everything we can to prevent another accident on the scene.”

For individuals and businesses interested in learning more, the Community Emergency Response Team offers training and education. Call 760-499-5100 for additional information.

Story First Published: 2018-01-26