by Marisol Beas, California Black Media
California is often portrayed in the media as a utopian state with fantastic weather year-round, serene beaches and scenic geography that would be a resident’s dream. And, in many areas of the state, it’s partly true. However, a devastating summer for the state has ignited concerns about the state’s emergency response preparedness.
According to Time Magazine, at one point this summer, the state dealt with 14 active wildfires. Because of the catastrophic fires, there is a renewed focus by utility companies, such as Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), to ensure all Californians are planning, responding and recovering after emergency events.
“Families need to be prepared, have a plan and know what to do during an emergency,” says Kevin Smith, an emergency management specialist with PG&E. “In California, these disasters can happen anywhere, anytime.”
Julia Dudley Najieb, a business owner in Fresno, encountered an emergency event in the summer of 2017. Her business caught on fire after an upstairs tenant left a candle burning. Najieb, who was devastated by the losses reflected on the incident saying everyone sees “on TV when wildfires are raging and you see houses burning up, but you never think that could be you one day.”
According to a study conducted by the Federal Emergency Management System (FEMA), 60 percent of American adults have not practiced what to do in a disaster and only 39 percent develop an emergency plan. Research from FEMA suggests 80 percent of Americans live in counties that have been hit with a weather-related disaster.
“I was not prepared for other people’s actions,” added Najieb. She says that a candle from her tenant fell to the floor, igniting her ceiling. In the aftermath, the fire left behind smoke and water damage from the automatic sprinkler system. She added that residents should be aware it’s not only the fire that leaves lasting damage to a home or business.
PG&E recommends residents should have a disaster kit ready. Inside that kit, they recommend including one gallon of water per person per day, nonperishable food, tools and utensils, and baby and pet food. In addition, PG&E advices that kits include equipment such as flashlights, batteries, radios, and mobile devices.
PG&E provides safety advice and other resources through its community wildfire program. The community wildfire safety program establishes a wildfire and prevention and emergency response center, as well as a partnership with individuals in high fire-threat areas.
In addition, PG&E recommends that your home be evaluated to help ensure that your property and home are prepared for emergencies. PG&E says that it is important to install and replace batteries in smoke alarms and locate and know how to use fire extinguishers.
“Wildfires in California are just one of the many challenges we face,” said CAL FIRE Deputy Chief Scott McLean. National Preparedness Month focuses on working to ensure our communities are prepared for disasters and emergencies of all kinds.
“We all must prepare ourselves, our businesses and our families now, to ensure we are ready for any disaster. Disasters don’t plan ahead, but you can! Take the time to create an emergency plan, put together a disaster preparedness kit, and sign up for alerts.”
GET READY FOR NATURAL DISASTERS BEFORE THEY HAPPEN:
Prepare an emergency plan and conduct an emergency drill with your family.
Prepare an evacuation plan for your home. Each room should have at least two ways to escape in case one is blocked. Establish a place where your family can reunite.
Establish an alternative way to contact others who are not home, such as an out-of-the-area telephone contact.
Prepare and maintain an emergency preparedness kit with enough supplies on hand to be self-sufficient for at least three days, and preferably up to one week.
Know where your gas service shutoff valve is, and how to shut off your gas supply. The main shutoff valve is normally near your gas meter and will require the use of a 12- to 15-inch adjustable pipe or crescent-type wrench or other suitable tool.
Know which of your appliances use gas and where the appliance shutoff valves are. In some cases, turning off the gas at the appliance shutoff valve will suffice.
Know where the main electric switch is and how to turn off your electric supply.
KNOW WHAT TO DO AFTER AN EMERGENCY:
Check for injuries and ensure that everyone is safe.
Check for damage. If you smell or hear gas escaping inside your home or business, get everyone outside and shut off the gas immediately!
Do not use electrical switches, appliances or phones because sparks can ignite gas. Do not check for a gas leak with a match or an open flame.
Once outside, use your phone from a safe location upwind where you can no longer smell gas to call 911 and PG&E at 1-800-743-5000.
Shut off the gas at the main gas service valve normally located near your gas meter by using a 12- to 15-inch adjustable wrench or other suitable tool to give the valve a quarter turn.
Once you shut off the gas, DO NOT turn it back on. Contact PG&E or another qualified professional to perform a safety inspection before the gas service is restored and the gas appliance pilots are re-lit.
If the power goes out, turn off all electric appliances to avoid overloading circuits and fire hazards when power is restored. Leave a single lamp on to alert you when power returns. Turn your appliances back on one at a time when conditions return to normal.
During a power outage, use battery-operated flashlights instead of candles due to the risk of fire. If you must use candles, keep them away from drapes, lamp shades and small children and never leave them unattended.
Treat all downed power lines as if they are energized and extremely dangerous. Keep yourself and others away from them. Call 911, and then notify PG&E at 1-800-743-5000.