Giving residents a quake-up call

It is a matter of when, not if. That was the message Thursday at Providence High School in Burbank, where representatives of Chile's emergency services division joined local and state officials for a simulated earthquake response.

The drill was in conjunction with the statewide event, the Great California Shakeout.

Now in its third year, the Shakeout included 7.9 million participants at businesses, schools and hospitals up and down the state, the largest such drill in the United States, said Mark Benthien, director of outreach at the Southern California Earthquake Center.

Representatives from CalEMA, the L.A. County Office of Emergency Services and the U.S. Geological Survey accompanied Providence students and teachers as they dove under desks during the simulation. Burbank firefighters then extracted three dozen "victims" from classrooms and took them by ambulance to Providence St. Joseph Medical Center where they were treated at a triage center.

"There is no question that [an earthquake] will happen here at some point," said Providence Head of School Michael Collins. "These kids will experience something during their lifetime. It is good that they get the training. We are happy to do it because it gives us a perfect lab for the experience."

Joining the drill were two dozen delegates from Chile's National Office of Emergency Management, known as ONEMI, who shared their experiences of managing the immediate aftermath of the 8.8 quake that rocked their country in February.

About 600 Chileans were killed in the earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Since the event, CalEMA has expanded its existing partnership with ONEMI, sharing resources and brainpower to develop enhanced emergency response practices.

When the stress and chaos of an emergency kicks in, people rely on their basic training, and they need to rehearse how they are going to react, said Burbank Fire Capt. Daryl Isozaki.

"I am not going to say practice makes perfect, but practice makes everyone more aware of what to do," Isozaki said.

At the Crescenta Valley Sheriff's Station, local Disaster Communications Service volunteers also leapt into action Thursday, firing up ham radios to coordinate with agencies throughout Los Angeles County.

DCS radio operators receive federal emergency and sheriff's department training to operate communication centers in the event of an emergency. They can operate five bandwidths of countywide reach and are called to respond at a moment's notice when disaster strikes.

"We're a backup system for the sheriffs. Our job is to help relieve officers in the field so they can respond to incidents," said Mike Farrell, a 64-year-old Altadena resident who was one of four volunteers on the horn at the station.

Farrell and others coordinated fire and law enforcement communication and helped secure evacuated homes during the 2009 Station fire in the Angeles National Forest.

Stringent building standards in California have reduced the risk of death caused by earthquakes, said Lucy Jones, chief scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey, but the potential for injury remains high.

Earthquakes can violently jerk people to the ground, or throw them into hard objects, breaking bones. Studies have shown that those who practice taking cover are more likely to do so amid a real emergency, she said.

Officials also emphasized the need for individual responsibility during disasters. California is home to the world's preeminent emergency responders, CalEMA Secretary Matthew Bettenhausen said.

Still, residents need to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves, he added.

"We can't do it without the public's help," Bettenhausen said. "If you are not hurt or injured, you need to be prepared to take care of yourself for at least 72 hours."

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