Are you prepared for when disaster hits?

Epilogue: Part 3 in a series

Almost a year before the historic earthquakes hit Ridgecrest, disaster preparedness expert Robert OBergfell posted the following scenario in September 2018 for hundreds of social media followers. In the first two parts of the series, we saw disaster hit from Joe’s and Jane’s perspectives. In this conclusion, the author gives an overview on the lessons learned.


By ROBERT OBERGFELL, Emergency Operations Coordinator

What kind of picture did this story paint? That I’m crazy? A little. Both parents work in 70 percent of the homes in America. So children are typically home before the adults. And with 50 percent of marriages ending in divorce, many homes have only one parent coming home. In the average home, most things you would need in a short-term event are available, but where are they? Do they work? What works if there is no power? Not much in today’s society. Nearly everything relies on some form of power. If not continuous, then on batteries. But those work only temporarily.

If an emergency happened of any kind — pick one, earthquake (m6.4/m5.4/m7.1), fire, flood, eruption/civil unrest — and of course there’s the old power failure I talked about with Joe and Jane! Would you know what worked? Where your needed items are? How to communicate with others or loved ones? Do you have a plan? Does your family know what your plan is? I hope so. Do you practice?

This is not new to me. As a retired 20-plus-year police sergeant and the emergency operations coordinator of a medium metropolitan city in the upper California high desert, I have been through power loss crisis and, yes, earthquakes (with the recent 7.1-magnitude triggering a state of dmergency). The size of your town or city doesn’t matter. The results are the same if 30,000 people in the metropolitan area — and another 20,000 or so in the outside rural areas — are without power, or worse, water.

And you know what? Large cities have plans to send people to the IWV (and any other small outlying areas) in the event of a real-world disaster! This is a fact. It’s in the state-submitted disaster plans. They (pick a big city in Southern California — Los Angeles, Inland Empire, etc.) do not have the capability or capacity to handle their own people, but neither do we. And neither do you.

How about emergency services? You may think you won’t need those. But is that true? Ask yourself honestly — do you know where your necessary items are? What will you need for the first few hours? What do you have? What if there is no cell service? Do you have a hard-line phone, CB radio or walkie-talkies?

In the Indian Wells Valley there are three to five police officers working at any given time (maybe more, maybe less). There are four three-man fire stations, two or three ambulances, one dispatcher, one or two deputies, one or two CHP. Those people are responsible to our entire population.

What I already know and have confirmed was that most people, especially here in America, have no real idea what it is like to go without anything. Everything is expected — from lights to cable, phones, water, gas, cooling and heating and food.

They have nothing because someone else will do it. Someone else will help them. Right? City, state, federal services will be there.

Did you know that seven to 10 power locations control all the power to the lower 48 states? What if “no one is coming”? (I have been saying this for years — ask any IWV Community Emergency Response Team member).

Did you know there are more than 200 square miles of magma (that’s lava for all us normal folks) under Mammoth Mountain? It’s called a Super Volcano, in case you missed it. We are the earthquake capitol of the world if you remember? Five faults in the IWV alone (now six).

No power equals no registers equals no stores. You can’t run to Walmart, Albertson’s, Stater Bros. or Costco. They’re closed. Even those that remain open are dark. Most stores of any kind in the United States do not have power backup. Bottled water — all bottled water — will be gone in less than two hours. Fact.

Any stores that are open will soon close too. Food will begin to spoil as soon as it starts to get warm. That’s meat, cheese, milk products and some medications. Your “fridge” is cold currently, but if you open it, there goes that.

Want to know who else won’t have power? Gas stations. How much fuel is in your car/truck/motorcycle or boat? Full? Good on you. Half-tank? Okay, not too bad. A quarter tank or less? You’re screwed. You will also find that even if fuel is available, emergency and essential services will get it first.

Start a mental check on what you need right now to get you started and stable if the power scenario were to happen — and it has. The second thing you need to do — and this applies no matter where you live or what the emergency — is have the government-recommended three-day supply of food and water for each person under your control. After Katrina, that number jumped to seven days. But most emergency experts lean on the 14- to 30-day rule. Not as the absolute, but the minimum. You need to be prepared for a large or small disaster at a moment’s notice.

“Damn, I had too much stuff,” said no one in a disaster ever!

And if power is off longer than 24 hours, it takes on a whole new angle — no matter where you live. The power was off on the Eastern Seaboard for several days in the late 1980s. It happened again in the 1990s, though most people don’t talk about it.

Notice that there are no “cool” rescue books or stories from Katrina? That’s because it wasn’t cool. Harvey was the same — it was crazy out of control. Turn the power off, have a disaster and it will happen. You have seen hurricanes (Florence), tornados (everywhere), fires (nationwide), and, yes, earthquakes.

These are just a few examples of disaster to ponder.

Joe and Jane was just a story. But if it made you think, now is the time to act on getting ready. Take an emergency preparations class (if you have questions ask). And last, but not least, practice for the skill you think you have.

Story First Published: 2019-08-16