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Emergency preparedness

Living in a ‘Disneyland of disasters,’ Oaklanders show up at Chabot to prepare for emergencies

on October 28, 2022

For many, getting prepared for emergencies is a daunting task, leading them to procrastinate from taking simple preemptive steps to manage critical situations for themselves, their families, and their communities.

About 500 people set those fears aside last Saturday to participate in an Emergency Preparedness Day at Chabot Elementary School in Oakland, where they had fun while learning practical steps to take in planning for emergencies. 

The event normally is held every other year, and last week’s was the first since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s fitting that it was held in October, as two major Bay Area disasters occurred in that month: the Oakland firestorm of 1991 in which 25 people died, and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in which 63  people died — 42 of them when the Cypress Street Viaduct  collapsed. 

Emergency preparedness
Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson hosts Emergency Preparedness Day. (Sobhan Hassanvand)

Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson Carson, who hosted the event, said the city has become better prepared to meet emergencies in the past 30 years, but added, “Those in emergency preparedness would say we’re never prepared enough.”

Based on Oakland’s 2021 Local Hazard Mitigation Plan, the city is highly prone to natural disasters, especially earthquakes, landslides, severe weather, and fire. California is behind only Texas with the the highest number of federally declared disasters in the past 70 years. Borrowing a phrase from a friend, Lars Eric Holm, who led one of the workshops, referred to the state as the “Disneyland of disasters,” because of its array of hazards and disasters. 

Workshops for Preparedness Day were designed to be fun and engaging, giving children and adults practical information for many types of emergencies. They included: “Stop the Bleed” by FLACK, an emergency medical services company; “Listos California for All: 4 Steps to Preparedness” by Holm, the disaster preparedness coordinator for Eden I&R; and “Whistles, Phones, & Ziplocs: Tools for Emergency Preparedness” by Ana-Marie Jones, the chief resilience officer at Interpro.

Emergency preparedness
Lars Eric Holm leads a workshop in how everyday objects can be useful in a pinch. (Sobhan Hassanvand)

In his workshop, Holm tried to show how everyday items could come in handy during an emergency. As an example, he used a simple plastic bag to turn his flashlight into a glaring lantern by putting the bag on the head of his flashlight so that it could light up a dark space instead of just emitting a focused beam of light. He asked the audience: How could a simple plastic bag be helpful during an emergency? The answers added a dozen usages to the list, from waterproofing cellphones to diapering a baby.

“It’s meant to be a happy conversation, not a grim conversation,” Holm said. “It’s actually meant to get people’s brains thinking and doing a little bit of a game that you play when you suddenly realize that everything around you can be used to respond to something if you just think creatively.”

Jones said the workshops she and others conducted were the first step toward a deeper level of preparedness. The fun and games made people want to participate, even if their inclination was to avoid the drills. 

“If you never have the positive experience and everything seems overwhelming, it seems scary,” she said. 

Emergency Preparedness
Ana-Marie Jones, chief resilience officer at Interpro, talks about how to prepare for an emergency. (Sobhan Hassanvand)

Getting prepared for emergencies can be frightening even for professionals. Jones recalled a participant in one of her workshops who felt unprepared for emergencies though she used to lead wilderness group explorations. “Preparedness had always been framed around the earthquake, the flood, the terrorism,” Jones said. The workshops reframed the conversation. 

Participants had a chance to attend two workshops, as each were offered twice during the day. Along with the workshops, there were information booths, where people could pick up flyers, chat with presenters or share their own emergency experiences with each other. One resident decided to download the MyShake app, after hearing about it at one of the booths. 

The event wrapped up with 300 participants receiving free emergency kits that included a first-aid pouch, flashlight, glow sticks, a pocket radio, an emergency blanket, a pair of gloves, and a pocket tool.

Emergency Preparedness
About 500 attended Emergency Preparedness Day to learn how to plan for disasters. (Sobhan Hassanvand)

More information, including how to develop an emergency plan and how to build an emergency kit, is on the Alameda County website

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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