The Mountain Emergency Services Committee (MEMSCOMM) discussed post-earthquake emergency operations at its Thursday, Nov. 10 meeting — specifically what building or building would serve as the emergency operations center (EOC), the communication hub of local disaster response.

Idyllwild Fire Protection District (IFPD) Chief Norm Walker has repeatedly voiced concern that, given the building materials and age of the fire department structure, a major earthquake could render it inoperable. And at this point in time, there is no identified alternate. Walker noted that Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES) communication equipment housed at the department could be buried under rubble, further complicating potential emergency response.

As a result of the discussion, attendees agreed to devote the Thursday, Dec. 8, meeting to consider alternate EOCs.

“We’re not that far along yet [to determining alternate EOCs],” said Walker.

In addition to an EOC serving as a communication hub, it is also the likely post-disaster point of assembly for locals and tourists.

Mountain Disaster Preparedness President Veronica Alt reminded attendees that there are eight Disaster Aid Stations in the Idyllwild, Pine Cove and Mountain Center area (see Idyllwild Phone Book map of DAS locations and the Idyllwild Post Office information board) that also serve as post-disaster neighborhood assembly points. And as MDP member Ron Perry pointed out, the DAS units, all steel construction, are unlikely to be damaged during a quake. Each is equipped with a generator. The DAS units are meant to give MDP volunteers an equipped assembly point to provide emergency triage to survivors and direct them to designated Red Cross shelters.

MEMSCOMM coordinator Gina Moran McGough suggested an April 2012 local simulated “boots on the ground” disaster exercise, in which Idyllwild and Pine Cove camps, along with Idyllwild Arts and Hemet Unified School District representatives would be involved. Although each organization has its own evacuation and disaster response plans, there is no overall coordination between these organizations and other local disaster response groups. And as Chief Walker noted, complicate any disaster response plan with bad weather or fire from smoke that eliminates visibility, and those plans suffer or fall apart.

San Jacinto after the 1918 earthquake. Steinbrugge Collection, Earthquake Engineering Research Center, UC Berkeley.
There was discussion of the San Jacinto Fault Zone, 6 miles from Idyllwild, as the most active in Southern California. In 1899 and 1918, two earthquakes, Magnitude 6.8 and 6.9, destroyed much of Hemet and San Jacinto.

Dr. Frank Vernon, research geophysicist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego (UCSD) said, ““There has not been a rupture between two sections [nearest Idyllwild], from the top of Batista Canyon down to Borrego Mountain, in over 200 years. The last major [mountain] quake was in 1800, in Anza.” The Hill is long overdue for a quake the size of the Hemet and San Jacinto quakes, noted Vernon.

In other business, IFPD, and the local water districts, delivered updates on hazard mitigation plans (LHMP), part of Riverside County’s Operational Area Multi-Jurisdictional Plan. While the federal Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 requires that local communities address only natural hazards as a precondition to receiving federal mitigation grant assistance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends that local agencies address manmade and technological hazards as well. The overall goal of LHMP is to preserve vital functions of necessary community resources.

Walker, for IFPD, noted the need for P-wave sensor doors for the Idyllwild station — sensors that detect the first waves of an earthquake and automatically open department bay doors to allow egress of fire engines and equipment. As mentioned, Walker is also concerned that the department’s building is highly vulnerable to earthquake damage and needs an engineering survey for earthquake compliance. He also mentioned the need for grant funding so that he could commit more fire personnel to property abatement inspections.

Idyllwild Water District General Manager Terry Lyons discussed, as part of his district plan, the need for additional wells (“to make the district drought proof”), uses of recycled water for irrigation, examination and retrofitting of all current tanks to address earthquake survivability, use of portable generators and more interagency cooperation and exercises. Fern Valley Water District General Manager Steve Erler also stressed interagency cooperation for disaster mitigation but was most worried about large amounts of FVWD-acquired watershed acreage along Strawberry and Tahquitz Creeks that need clearance. “That would need a grant,” Erler said.

Lastly, Vicki Jakubac, speaking for Pine Cove Water District General Manager Jerry Holldber, noted that her district had finished its plan and the LHMP questionairre, already had a 2005 disaster plan, and is generally in good shape because it is in a newer building, is the de-facto EOC for Pine Cove has its own generator and is next to a CAL FIRE station.

The next MEMSCOMM meeting is at 9 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 8 at IFPD.