Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Emergency Plan Focus of Valleywide Meeting

By Sondra Murphy
The Ojai Valleywide Discussion lured about 160 community members back for the final meeting Sunday at Nordhoff gym. 1st District Supervisor Steve Bennett and staff focused on the top two issues as defined by attendees in the previous two discussions. The No. 1 issue was disaster preparedness.
With Southern California fires fresh in the collective consciousness, proactive ways for local residents to prepare for emergency events was greeted with enthusiasm. As Bennett said, “It’s time for us to take the valley’s preparation to another level that gets the public more involved.”
Capt. Bruce Norris, chief of the Ojai Police, and Chief Bob Roper of the Ventura County Fire Department were on hand to speak about emergency preparedness in the Ojai Valley. One of the areas that earlier meetings identified as needing improvement is communication and Norris concurred, referencing reverse 911 as a great bridge to that goal. “We call portions of the county where there happens to be a disaster,” said Norris. “(911 operators) can phone a lot of numbers in an affected area and give information about evacuation.”
Norris said that county supervisors are supporting expansion of reverse 911 into this area for use during any type of emergency, such as fire, flood or earthquake. Ongoing communication among emergency responders is about to get a much-needed boost, as well. “Red Mountain, by Oak View, is getting ready to change out a microwave tower that will greatly enhance the communication ability of the Ojai Valley,” said Norris. He said that Sisar Peak is also to get an upgrade and both will expand the range capabilities of responding personnel.
According to Norris, the Ventura River County Water District is allowing an AM radio tower to be built on its property to allow for emergency broadcasts that anyone may tune into in the event of a disaster. Grant funds in the amount of $50,000 have been identified to help pay for the tower, which will not be dependent on other power sources for functionality and, if the project continues to go smoothly, Norris estimated the system could be in place in about six months.
Roper next explained that Community Emergency Response Training classes teach people skills to help their families and neighbors during a disaster. “The Day Fire ran for 30 days and the Zaca Fire ran for 60 days,” said Roper, adding that CERT trainings are most helpful in long-term disasters because responding agencies prioritize order of assistance in such a way that may delay response time to individual neighborhoods.
“CERT training teaches a little about disaster psychology. It teaches how to bring CERT trainees together,” said Roper, important processes in allowing people to assist their own communities. “It’s about family helping family and neighbor helping neighbor.” Once rescue agencies finish helping high priority locations, such as hospitals or care homes, neighborhood CERT coordinators can give them crucial triage information.
Roper encouraged participants to sign up for the next round of CERT training scheduled for Jan. 16 and said Ojai Rotary Club West is creating a DVD from class sessions. The DVD will be available to purchase in December by contacting Stephanie Midgett at 646-1470. For a preview, visit rotaryojaiwest.org and click on CERT.
The attendees next moved into groups based on their residence addresses to help define neighborhoods that are accessible to each other for CERT team purposes. Residents then listed vulnerabilities and resources in order to help with eventual county prioritization in emergency situations.
Bennett said that data from the discussions, including the other issues in the top eight, would be made available to everybody on the discussion groups web site. “People interested can take that data and run with it,” said Bennett. He said that the discussions were initially set up with two objectives in mind: “To establish win-win goals that residents could work toward and to give people the opportunity to make connections that they would not normally make.” Participant responses still being tallied are showing those goals were successfully met and “are overwhelmingly positive,” said Bennett.
The other issues that made it to the top eight include creating a valleywide recreation district, expanding youth programs, decreasing car use in the valley by expanding the public trolley and other alternatives, and preserving existing open space in the valley.
Cindy Cantle from Supervisor Bennett’s office also mentioned the $10,000 grant the Ojai Valley Youth Foundation recently received from the Allstate Insurance Company to develop a disaster preparedness web site. The site will be designed, built and authored by Ojai’s youth. “We are hoping it is up and running by spring,” project director Bobbi Balderman later told OVN.
The Ojai Valley Wide Discussion web site may be accessed at countyofventura.org /ovwd/default.aspx. Data collected from the final meeting will be posted in the coming weeks.

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