Preparing California for the Big One with Capstone 2015 Exercise

This is the best prepared state in the union, and
I come from managing disasters of all 50 States. If you must endure a disaster, California’s the
place to be. On Monday, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit just
outside of Palm Springs. Eight counties suffer severe damage leading
California’s governor to declare a state of emergency. Pretty intense. Initial reports, hundreds of fires burning,
tens of thousands of buildings damaged, and thousands of people injured. It escalated really fast. All of this luckily was a simulated exercise. So, this exercise is to mimic that sort of event.
And we are playing as we would on a bad day. A worst case scenario for every agency
participating in Capstone. California’s biggest exercise held each year.
This time a four-day, real-world exercise, putting the state’s leaders through the ringer,
and it’s how State Coordinating Officer Tina Curry can test California’s catastrophic
earthquake plan after years of development. So the notion that we’re able to take it from
the planning process to a semi-realistic scenario, to have people here
walking through the action, is huge. It’s huge and our readiness to have us prepared
for this type of event, or any type of event that might happen in
California. So, getting it to this point is absolutely
necessary. The very agencies that would come together in
an actual catastrophic disaster are here today. It does a couple things. One, it reinforces the
partnership between the federal and state partners. It also lets us look at efforts
that we’ve taken recently to improve California’s response capability, and
we get to play it out in real time to see if those efforts are working. Day one, initial federal and state responders
gather at the State Operations Center at the California Office of Emergency Services, calls between OES and local emergency
responders in SoCal, crystallize the understanding of the extent of
damage. Take care of yourselves, be safe, and we’re here
to support you as best we all can. Thank you. Everything proceeds as it would in a real-life
situation. That’s tomorrow. What are we doing for tonight?
We just sleeping on the lawns? How are we doing with feeding? The main goal here is to assess the situation,
gather the troops, and begin the long road to
recovery. Reassuring the public that all hands are on deck
is a top priority for Cal OES Director Mark Ghilarducci. There are a number of challenges that we are
working with throughout the region. We have to let the public know what’s going on, and have to be able to give them good
information so they can make good decisions in a disaster. Day two, the exercise moves to a larger
coordination center where dozens of agencies are now in groups organized by their field of
expertise. What I’m doing right now is I’m getting
Department of Defense personnel to assist in the search and rescue aspect of the
exercise. Military, state and federal agencies, public,
private, and nonprofit groups are all playing their predetermined roles in
disaster response. It’s what’s known as mutual aid. Ah, mutual aid is a critical component of the state’s emergency need. When we have
large-scale events such as this, we need to be able to mobilize
those resources and get them to where they’re needed most critically. And without mutual aid there’s no way local government could handle it.
So right now, we have 58 counties in California that are responding to help the eight
that are affected. Power will most certainly go down during a large
disaster. So, utility companies are represented
here too. We have done this since 1952. Don Bowland of the California Utilities
Emergency Association has coordinated power restoration efforts after
some of the most devastating disasters. In Sandy, we had 14 different governors to work
with, 14 different emergency managers, 14 different legislative and legal bodies. Here we
have one. The process is streamlined by the design of the
state. A plus in a sea of negatives coming in from the
field. Managers have to overcome one unthinkable tragedy after another, and
government systems pushed to their breaking
points. Just as the federal coordinating officer had to do
during the BP oil spill. We didn’t have that unity of effort I think, I thought, and so the key was trying to build that
unity of effort. What we did was empower the locals, the local incident
commanders. We continue to work very hard to save lives and
minimize suffering. And external communications is just as critical. The Red Cross continues to serve the survivors of this devastating earthquake with
shelter, food, health, and mental services. Federal and state public information officers sit
side by side sorting through the never-ending influx of situation reports. Together they decide what they need to tell the
public and when. It’s important to coordinate a message because
you want to make sure that it’s a unified message. It’s not just coming from
one agency, that we’re working in partnership together, to make sure that we’re getting the
accurate information out to the public. We have to all be on the same message and it
has to be a message that the public, those that are affected by a disaster, can
understand and make good decisions. If we’ve got perhaps the fire department saying
one thing, the police department saying another, or perhaps not saying anything at all, that can
be as dangerous as the actual disaster itself, because the public needs to be able to expect
that their first responders are competent, they can trust them, and what they tell them is
understandable and actionable. They can hear what’s being said and go, okay
I’m going to make this decision for my family, or I’m going to do this in a disaster. An exercise of this magnitude and perceived
chaos can be overwhelming in the beginning, as it was
for PIO Rob Mayberry. And I am absolutely amazed at the number of
people that are in this room, this is the
operations briefing room. Just the sheer numbers and the amount of
information that’s leaving and coming into this
room. This is Tim Britt’s first exercise as operations
section chief. His Marine Corps training helped him handle the
most intimidating aspect of the test. You got to make a decision, and then you got to own it, and sometimes it’s
not always the correct one. No matter how long any one person has been
doing this, there is always a lesson learned. I’ve been doing this for 35-plus years, and there’s
always a takeaway from these tabletop exercises. It’s good to know
a person that you are working with now, when things are status-quo, rather than trying to
meet somebody during a crisis situation. So 72 after, hours after the earthquake an 11-
month-old baby, named Aliyah Conda, was rescued and reunited with her parents. Give
yourself an applause, you helped with that. A message not lost on these hardworking
emergency managers, is that the ultimate goal and the results of their
actions, are lives saved. Yeah, this is our home. This is our, our location.
It’s our terrain, it’s our houses, our families. The people that are on the same soccer team
with us, their families. So it’s nice to know that if something happens,
that everybody we care about is taken care of.

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