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May 28, 2012

Calif. disaster drills expanding

By Melissa Pinion-Whitt
The San Bernardino County Sun

SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY, Calif. — When the state held a massive disaster drill in 2008 that simulated a magnitude 7.8 earthquake along the San Andreas Fault, emergency operations officials communicated with each other from separate offices across the Inland Empire.

Now a series of follow-up drills planned for the coming weeks will bring many of them under one roof.

"Each year, it kind of branches out a little based on the years before," said Tim Tate, San Bernardino County Fire Department fire prevention officer.

The Golden Guardian exercise is held annually and involves different scenarios including earthquakes, floods and tsunamis. The 2013 exercise is slated to involve the scenario of a catastrophic earthquake in the San Francisco Bay area.

Emergency operations center, or EOC, officials held a workshop last week to address geological and seismic hazards in the Cajon Pass and how a major earthquake would affect transportation and critical utilities.

Two additional exercises are planned. The first, called a city/town tabletop exercise, will bring officials from 24 communities together to work on a disaster drill.

"It's going to bring in all the different EOCs in together to do the exercise in one room," Tate said. "Generally, all the various EOCs are separate and run in different locations, so this is a chance to get them all together to work on the same problems in the same room."

Drill participants will examine mass care shelters in the second exercise. It's an expansion of a concept developed from wildfires in 2003 and 2007, called the Shelter Operations Compound.

Officials say the county should be able to open three such shelters simultaneously during a disaster, each holding about 3,000 people and providing services to evacuees.

Emergency officials want to bring together county departments and other agencies to test components of the plan.

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