Lake Tahoe drill helps prepare residents, officials for a real disaster | SierraSun.com

Lake Tahoe drill helps prepare residents, officials for a real disaster

Margaret Moran
mmoran@sierrasun.com

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — A horde of residents and emergency personnel checking in and working at a mock evacuation center — all while helicopters flew overhead — was the scene in Incline Village this past weekend.

It was part of a community-wide wildfire drill Saturday morning around Diamond Peak Ski Resort to better prepare residents, volunteers and officials for when disaster strikes.

"It makes people think about (an evacuation) and plan ahead," said Incline Village resident Greg McKay. "The better prepared they are, the easier the whole operation will go."

The backdrop for the drill was a fake wildfire, which was "scorching" several acres and threatening structures in Lower Tyrolia and Upper Tyrolia.

Between 8:18 a.m. and 9 a.m., more than 18,000 robo 911 calls were made to landlines and cellphones of Incline-Crystal Bay residents, notifying them of the incident.

In addition, law enforcement personnel and volunteers knocked on 1,167 doors in the lower Fairview, Tyrolian Village/Bitterbrush and Lower Tyrolia subdivisions, notifying residents of the situation and encouraging evacuation.

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"We hope to have as many contacts as possible because it's the responsibility of our citizens to have an understanding of the evacuation process, our determined locations where we'd like people to gather, and to know their role when it comes to evacuation," said North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District Chief Mike Brown. "… What they can do to help us, also helps them."

Witnessing the drill in full swing made Incline Village resident Roxanne Fernandez aware of the importance of being prepared.

"If you can be prepared for that bigger picture, then each smaller picture gets taken care of," she said. "Your own neighborhood can be prepared and ready so that when (officials) are fighting the fires, they're not trying to fight around you. You've already evacuated and done what you're supposed to do, so you're not a hindrance, an obstacle."

As part of the exercise, residents relocated to the lower parking lot of Diamond Peak to a mock emergency center and signed in with the American Red Cross Northern Nevada Chapter.

"In any kind of disaster, the first several hours are utterly chaotic, so it's nice to be able to rehearse it where you don't have that and you can look for where the shortfalls rather than dealing with all the adrenaline, emotion and drama," said Elizabeth Morse, a Red Cross volunteer.

Positioned next to the Red Cross station was Washoe County Animal Services, which performed an animal rescue as part of the exercise.

The drill also served to assess efforts of the multiple emergency response agencies involved and identify opportunities for improvement.

"From my perspective I think it went very well," said Bob Harmon, public information officer for the Washoe County Sheriff's Office. "From what I saw, they were able to work through the neighborhoods pretty quickly, and we did it like we would have done in a real fire."

During the drill, officials tracked which homes were evacuated, and if contact was made or not with residents.

A formal after-action review is being prepared and should be available soon to the agencies, Brown said.

"During an incident like this, No. 1 is people," he said. "We worry about life safety, immediately, animal safety and the safety of our responders, as well."

By the numbers

18,000-plus: Robo 911 calls made to Incline-Crystal Bay residents.

1,167: Number of doors knocked on.

517-plus : Number of residents registered with the American Red Cross at a mock emergency center.

Source: North Lake Tahoe Fire Protection District

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Evacuation preparation tips

• Make a family emergency plan that includes home escape routes, meeting location and an out-of-area point of contact.

• Have an evacuation plan for pets and large animals.

• Prepare a disaster supply kit containing items such as water, non-perishable food, a first aid kit, medications, flashlight and batteries, and money.

Source: Incline Village/Crystal Bay Emergency Preparedness Guide

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Resident reaction

We spoke with several residents at the mock drill and asked the following question: Do you think you are prepared for an area evacuation? Below are some answers from Incline Village residents:

James Wilbur: “No. We have not yet prepared an emergency supply kit.”

Bettie Gordon: “Yes, because we have certain things in our truck already, and we have a list of things to take.”

Leo Guterrez: “No, because (I’m) not educated for this kind of event.”

Kelly McMillan: “Yes (due to) the information that was given here and knowing what I need to get to be prepared.”