We know you have herd it all before but we are not horsing around when we nag you about disaster preparedness. The storm last week left more than 1.6 million people from the San Francisco Bay area to the Central Valley without power on January 4th, according to Pacific Gas & Electric and other regional utility providers. There were particularly difficult problems in woodsy areas, like San Mateo County, where tumbling trees and branches damaged power lines. Together with the widespread flooding from it, the recent fires in Southern California, and the October 5.6 earthquake on the Calaveras fault in the East Bay, the storm should remind us to review our disaster preparedness plans.
As far as we can tell, our Town does not have an emergency management plan. The Town should have a plan and if they do it should be on-line. Most cities have a plan which provides the framework for preparing for, responding to and performing emergency response during times of natural or man-made disasters or national emergencies. These plans generally include: the activities which eliminate or reduce the probability of disaster; the role of Town government and staff to minimize loss of life and property damage and provide emergency assistance; and those short and long-term activities which restore city operations and help return the community to a normal state. It is fortunate that Woodside Fire Protection District does take emergency preparedness seriously, however, our Town government also has an important role to play should we face an natural disaster.
Fire danger is more pronounced in Woodside than in many of our neighboring communities. New stricter fire regulations are on the way (go here on Mootube to view the Town Council meeting on this topic). Given the heavily wooded nature of our area, it is lucky that there has not been a major wildfire. The Fire Protection District website says, “The brushy hillsides and grassy fields of our community present the potential for a major wildfire. The mix of wildland fuels and homes create a tremendous fire problem.” It cites grasses, heavy brush, and trees as major fuel sources for a wildfire, and states that steep hills can increase fire danger. Untreated shake and shingle roofs are a serious concern, as are narrow roads and poor landscaping choices – all can increase the risk of major fire damage.
Some things you can do to reduce fire risk on your property, and increase everyone’s safety:
* Keep your roof and gutters debris-free. Regularly sweep and clean your roof and gutters to remove potential fire fuel. If you re-roof, be sure to use a fire-resistant material.
* Keep fuel away from your home. Trim limbs closer than ten feet from your chimney, and remove any dead limbs overhanging your house or other buildings. Don’t store firewood or other combustible material next to your house. Remove any dead vegetation on your property – overgrown, dead plant life is very dangerous during fire season. Choose fire-resistive plants when re-landscaping. Most importantly, a safety zone of at least 30 feet should surround your home – keep flammable vegetation at least this far away.
* Make sure your house number is visible from the street so that emergency responders can find your home quickly in an emergency.
Living in California, we all know that earthquakes are inevitable. Here in Woodside there are two active earthquake fault traces running through the middle of the Town, the San Andreas and the Canada, and we have some of the most expansive soils found in the region. Woodside is surrounded by urban areas, but much of the Town is very isolated, and there are limited routes out of the area in a major emergency. Disaster preparedness officials say that you should have at least three days of supplies and be able to survive that long on your own without outside help. In some of the more out-of-way areas of Woodside, if trees came down and blocked roads, it might even be longer. The USGS publishes a useful handbook for earthquake safety focused on the San Francisco Bay region. You find it here online.
The handbook lists seven steps to follow to reduce your risk in an earthquake. Some of the most important are:
* Have a disaster plan in place – know where your family is going to meet up if the earthquake happens during the day. How would you get back together? According to the USGS, fewer than 10% of households have a disaster plan.
* Retrofit your home if necessary. Many older homes are not up to current earthquake code and could be in danger of collapse or other damage in a powerful earthquake. Water heaters or other large and unsecured objects could fall and injure a person. Fewer than 10% of homeowners have retrofitted their homes.
* Most importantly, have a disaster supply kit. As noted above, you may have to take care of yourself and your family for days after an earthquake before help can get to you. You need to have water, food, first aid supplies, and any needed medications. Radios, batteries, and flashlights are a necessity as well. And, since we’re in the Woodside, chainsaws and other limb-removal equipment to help clear driveways and paths might be helpful – only do this if it’s safe. Less than 50% of households have emergency kits.
* Also important – know where your gas and water shut-off valves are and be able to turn them off after an earthquake. Doing so will reduce the possibility of fire and water damage to your home. Be aware of the location of power lines near your home, and don’t touch downed lines.
* In the aftermath of a major earthquake, telephone lines will be jammed. Cell phone networks might be overloaded. Unless it’s an emergency, don’t use your telephone immediately after a quake, to ensure the system functions for those who do have an urgent need to use the telephone network.
We encourage you to join or donate to the Citizen’s Emergency Response and Preparedness Program (CERPP), a volunteer program run under the auspices of the WFPD. It’s a neighbor-to-neighbor help program that would be activated in case of a major disaster that might otherwise overwhelm emergency responders, as well as helping to maintain communications in the event of such an emergency. Check it out.
Other resources include: the Woodside Fire Protection District website , which is full of tips and checklists to help prepare for a natural disaster. The site has information on everything from exit drills for safety in single-structure fires, advice on the best smoke detectors for your home, and comprehensive fire extinguisher recommendations. It even has info on carbon monoxide and earthquake safety for children and pets.