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Santa Barbara Activates Emergency Operations Center for Earthquake Drill

First responders, city staff and CERT volunteers participate in the full-scale disaster response simulation

Volunteers and emergency responders reacted to a simulated earthquake disaster as part of a drill Wednesday planned by the City of Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara City College.

"It's an offshoot; we were going to do a full-scale active shooter drill with SBCC and five days before that, we had the incident in Isla Vista so everything was postponed," emergency services manager Yolanda McGlinchey said.

SBCC opened its Emergency Operations Center and the city activated its EOC at Fire Station 1, at 121 W. Carrillo St., to deal with the simulated emergency. 

The City of Santa Barbara EOC was able to open up within 15 minutes of the initial call for activation, well below the goal of one hour, McGlinchey said. 

“Victims” were treated at Santa Barbara City College and fire companies were sent throughout the city to survey the “damage” from the quake, City Fire Capt. Gary Pitney said.

In case of a major event like a flood, fire or earthquake, the city activates the EOC and runs the response from there.

Wednesday’s scenario was for a two- to three-day operation after an earthquake, with enough damage that the city would call in outside resources to help.

Communication and organization are the key, Pitney said. Everything is pre-planned, from staging areas to alternate routes for outside agencies to help if freeways get blocked off.

Fire engine companies will take pictures in the field and sent them to the EOC and media so information can get out as quickly as possible, Pitney noted.

quake drill
A CERT volunteer tends to a "victim" during Wednesday's simulated earthquake disaster. (Santa Barbara City Fire Department photo)

For the city's EOC, employees from multiple departments gather and have simulated calls to help the group decide next steps, such as declaring a local emergency and calling for extra resources, McGlinchey said. 

"It all worked out well," she said. "We've found some glitches we're going to look at, but the communication is probably the best we've worked out in a long time." 

State law requires full-scale activation emergency drills every five years, and the city does tabletop exercises between those larger exercises and does quarterly updates for new staff. 

To activate the EOC in a real emergency, any city department director can open it up at the advisement of McGlinchey, a fire battalion chief or a police watch commander. People are then called in.

During the Jesusita Fire, the last time the EOC was activated, McGlinchey remembers calling around, getting the OK from the city administrator and activating the EOC for five days. 

"Administration can give the thumbs-up or say to wait, but for the most part we have a pretty proactive city administration," she said. 

Volunteers play a big role in major emergency response, particularly the Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT).

SBCC recently graduated 40 to 60 new CERT trainees and the institution wanted to give them experience in a mass casualty event drill, McGlinchey said. 

“We can’t manage a large-scale disaster without a group of people like that, not immediately at least,” Pitney said.

Outside resources can take hours to arrive and the city needs help from CERT for incidents like having multiple buildings collapse at once, or, as it happened in the simulation, an electrical fire at the wharf and a fuel line break at the airport, simultaneously, he said.

Noozhawk news editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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