Life and Limb
Big Sur residents form emergency team to respond to future natural disasters.
Thursday, October 9, 2008
When winter storms trigger mudslides and road closures, Big Sur residents don’t want to relive the martial law that ensued during the summer’s Basin Complex fire (when rebellious homeowners defied authorities in order to protect their property and help stranded neighbors). This time, South Coast leaders figure it’s better to join the system rather than fight it. So residents are forming a Community Emergency Response Team, which will act as first responders to local disasters and provide a crucial link in the incident command chain.
“If there is a mudslide, we are going to know it first,” says Dick Ravich, a director for the Coast Property Owners Association. “We want to be trained to deal with these situations as they arise rather than be at the mercy of any agency to come down here and take care of us.”
Ravich says about 45 residents so far have signed up to go through CERT training, which covers everything from fire safety to search and rescue, and requires 20 hours of live course work. The Big Sur Volunteer Fire Brigade will still manage local calamities; now they’ll have help from CERT members.
The county Office of Emergency Services is working to set up similar citizen squads in other communities near fire-charred areas, including Cachagua and Arroyo Seco. Robert Clyburn, emergency services planner for OES, says CERT training will help transform what could be an adversarial relationship between residents and authorities into a cooperative one.
“It’s a way for the community to have a voice to different agencies,” Clyburn says. “During the fire it didn’t exist.”
Cachagua resident John Russo says residents want to avoid another duck-and-cover scenario– like when Cachagua was under a mandatory evacuation order during the fire. “In addition to getting needed training,” he says, “we will also have relationships in place with county offices, so when things need to be adjusted they know what we are about. We are not some renegades out there in the forests.”
Clyburn wants the CERT training completed by January, before heavy rains are expected to cause flooding, rock falls and landslides. State and federal reports warn that these are highly possible scenarios. Downstream disasters are most likely to strike within Tassajara Hot Springs, Big Sur resorts, Arroyo Seco, Piney Creek, Carmel Valley, Pico Blanco Scout Camp, Coleman Canyon and state parks along Highway 1, according to the State Emergency Assessment Team report. “Because most of these areas are inhabited year-round, we believe these areas constitute an exigency, a sudden crisis involving a high risk to life that requires immediate action,” the report warns.
Clyburn says more than 200 areas are at great risk of flooding or mudslides, adding that as little as two inches of rain can cause dangerous debris torrents. “Just add water and we got a disaster,” he says.
Big Sur residents plan to wrap up CERT training in November. Goals include stationing CERT members on each canyon and ridge, setting up a website to disseminate emergency information, and utilizing amateur radio frequencies so residents can maintain communication when roads are closed and the power is out, Ravich says.
“It’s going to be serious,” he says. “We expect quite a number of closures down here this winter.”