FEMA won't be first responder
in large quake
By James Lanaras, Bay City News Service
April 16, 2006
The Federal Emergency Management Agency was criticized for its
response to Hurricane Katrina but it will be the California Office
of Emergency Services that will come to the immediate rescue in
the event of another 1906-like earthquake in the Bay Area.
Local and county fire, police and emergency medical providers
will be the first "boots on the ground" responders in
the event of that catastrophe, FEMA and OES officials say.
FEMA will become involved only if its assistance is requested,
said Jeff Lusk, earthquake program manager of FEMA's 2,500-employee
Region IX in Oakland. He added that the public's perception of
FEMA's response to Hurricane Katrina "is not grounded in
"The California Office of Emergency Services is the lead
agency here. We coordinate the federal response. We don't move
without the state or local officials telling us," Lusk said.
"Hurricanes and earthquakes are very different. Earthquakes
cause very different damage. Some areas will survive. There was
no public infrastructure left in New Orleans. There will be no
wholesale emptying like there was in New Orleans," Lusk said.
Tom Kell, a FEMA disaster assistance specialist, said, "Hurricane
Katrina was unprecedented. We were strained to the max."
That hurricane was the first time FEMA exercised its chain of
command under a national response plan, Kell said.
It's estimated another 1906-like quake in the Bay Area will cause
14,000 injuries and between 2,000 and 5,000 deaths, Lusk said.
It would tax responders at local, county and state levels, he
"I don't think any government agency can prepare to save
everyone from a catastrophic event," said Sonoma County's
Emergency Services coordinator Sandy Covall-Alves. "California
has a very strong mutual aid system."
FEMA will provide financial support and reimbursement while the
state OES will restore operations, Covall-Alves said.
California OES spokesman Greg Renick said cities and counties
in the quake area will respond first, then counties in other states
outside the mutual aid system will respond and, finally, in a
significant emergency, FEMA would be contacted. In the event of
another earthquake similar to the one in 1906, however, that contact
would likely be immediate given FEMA Region IX's proximity to
such an earthquake.
"One of the keys is to anticipate the need for resources
at all levels of government early. We're in good shape. We have
a system in place," Renick said.
Lusk said FEMA will be ready to dispatch urban search and rescue
teams and medical assistance teams from Dallas, Seattle, Denver
and other regional offices.
In March, FEMA's Region IX Acting Director Karen Ames reiterated
the need for the public to prepare for a major earthquake.
"It is important that people who live in this region be
aware that a major earthquake can occur at any moment-day or night-and
be prepared for it when it does. Unlike hurricanes and tornadoes,
earthquakes occur without warning-and once they do, it's too late
to prepare for them. The time to get ready is now," Ames
FEMA released a list of 16 steps Bay Area residents can take
to prepare for a major quake. Creating a personal or family earthquake
plan and practicing it tops the list. Identify things that you
could not forgo for 72 hours or more and assemble a disaster supplies
kit containing those items, FEMA advised.
The former director of FEMA between 1993 and 2001, James Lee
Witt, said another large magnitude quake like the one in 1906
could cause $400 billion in damage.
Now a national co-chair of the coalition ProtectingAmerica.org,
Witt said California lawmakers took decisive action when they
created the California Earthquake Authority after the private
insurance market "severely contracted" following the
Northridge earthquake in 1994 that caused $16.6 billion in claims.
That amount was more than the total earthquake premiums insurers
collected over the previous 30 years, Witt said.
is calling for a more integrated comprehensive solution that includes
strengthening first responder resources and building codes, consumer
education, and creating a financial backstop through legislation
including House Resolution 4366.
"All disasters are local and extremely personal. Every disaster
is different. There's no step-by-step plan. It's based on what
is still functioning," FEMA's Lusk said.
But he said California has the political and economic advantage
of an excellent mutual aid system.
"California is cursed with the risk of an earthquake and
the blessing of being prepared for one," Lusk said.
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