The county is busy with a number of disaster response plans, initiatives and trainings. Mountain Emergency Services Coordinator Gina Moran-McGough highlighted them at the monthly meeting on Thursday, Feb. 9.

First, McGough recapped the county’s and local agencies’ interest in designating an alternate local emergency operations center where emergency responders could coordinate communication and disaster response. An Office of Emergency Services team toured each of four previously suggested alternatives to access suitability.

Gina Moran-McGough, Riverside County OES. Photo by J.P. Crumrine
The four sites — Hurkey Creek Park and Campground, Idyllwild Nature Center, Mountain Resource Center and Pine Cove Water District facility — were examined as possible alternatives to the Idyllwlid Fire Station. The team evaluated each site with the following criteria: 24-hour contact, access, backup power, communications (including cell and radio coverage) and status of retrofitting. Other standards included amenities such as Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, heat, kitchen, conference room, parking, restrooms and water. According to preliminary evaluation, the Pine Cove Water District office and the Mountain Resource Center satisfied the most criteria.

This project sprang from former Idyllwild Fire Chief Norm Walker’s concerns that the fire department building, given its age and construction, could be damaged and rendered inoperable following a major earthquake.

McGough also announced the first sworn Hill volunteer for the California Disaster Corps, John Pontsler of Aguanga. The disaster corps is country’s first statewide corps of volunteers trained to assist professional responders in disaster response. Anthony Richardson, program coordinator, said Riverside County would have about 200 volunteers out of a statewide total of 1,000. Pontsler is cross-trained in Community Emergency Response Team, Red Cross and Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services. Pontsler’s swearing-in occurred in January.

“I started getting involved in disaster response as a way to be prepared for my family and neighbors,” he said explaining his reasons for applying for the CDC posting. “There’s a lot of instant gratification that comes from this kind of service. I love helping people.”

Hill applicants should be trained in at least one disaster response module such as CERT. Idyllwild residents should contact the Idyllwild Fire Protection District for an application, according to the corps’ Riverside County coordinator Anthony Richardson. IFPD, as the authorized CERT sponsor, would also act to nominate Idyllwild applicants for disaster corps vacancies. Hill residents outside of Idyllwild should contact [email protected] for an application. Richardson anticipates having two to four volunteers from the Hill and plans to have all 200 Riverside County positions filled by end of April.

McGough also discussed a new initiative called Functional Assessment Service Team in which specially trained volunteers can help impaired populations in case of a disaster. FAST volunteers would receive additional county training to assist particular special-needs populations in mass care and shelter following a disaster. The target populations include individuals with chronic health conditions, mental health disabilities, vision and hearing loss, aging and substance abuse issues.

Applicants should have two years experience working with and assisting people with access and functional needs. Interested applicants will attend a 16-hour training course. The next is on April 23 and 24. If interested contact Alia Rodriguez at (951) 955-5667 or Mary Camin at (951) 955-4799. Applications must be received by March 26 to be considered for the April class.

Trained volunteers would then deploy to shelters following an emergency to assist in obtaining resources for their demographic, such as prescribed medications and specific medical equipment.

Lastly, of possible interest to potential volunteers, is the county schedule of CERT training being offered in two locations accessible from Idyllwild. From May 18 through 20, a CERT class will be held in Banning. The next month, from June 22 through 24, CERT training will be available in Garner Valley. Mountain Disaster Preparedness’s next class is scheduled for Nov. 10.

First sworn Hill California Disaster Corps volunteer, Aguanga resident John Pontsler. Photo courtesy of John Pontsler

McGough also discussed a Mountain Area Safety Taskforce exercise, with an evacuation component, to be held tentatively on Thursday, June 14. The exercise would involve local camps. MAST officials want a better estimate of the time from notification to actual evacuation and what and how much equipment would be needed for those evacuations.

Riverside County Fire Department Batallion Chief Bill Weiser said, “This is a good start, a good idea. I’m interested to know how long it takes to evacuate a camp. We sure don’t want buses getting in the middle of things [efficient evacuation of the larger community].” IFPD Chief Mike Sherman questioned how out-of-area professional responders manning roadblocks would know which buses to let through. “We do not know who is authorized,” he said. “We must have prearrangements.”

MEMSCOMM is the Hill’s colloquium that brings together professional responders and Hill volunteer groups to discuss ways to prepare for and cope with disasters, whether wildland fire, earthquake, or terrorist incidents. Meetings are open to the public.