County ready for disasters; Encourages its citizens to prepare
If dire forecasts were to materialize, Plumas County faced the threat of flooding, mudslides and power outages.
Sipe, director of the Plumas County Office of Emergency Services, is responsible for coordinating local resources to weather emergencies.
For now, it’s rain and wind that pose a threat, but just a few months ago, it was fire.
Plumas County has a 241-page emergency operations plan to address disasters, whether they are natural, technological or manmade. It was originally adopted in 1997, revised in 2004 and thoroughly revamped in 2011.
“I just didn’t want to put a new cover on an old plan,” Sipe said, who took over as OES director in 2010. “Going through the process was very valuable.”
The document was reviewed and approved by county department heads, the sheriff, the Portola city manager, the president of the local fire chiefs association, the county Board of Supervisors chairman and the local Red Cross representative.
“It was important to have buy-in,” Sipe said.
He described the plan, which must be reviewed every five years, as a “living document,” that can be updated as necessary.
It, along with the county’s hazard mitigation plan, provides county officials with the tools to prevent disasters when possible and address them when they occur.
Both documents are in compliance with the California Emergency Services Act and can be viewed on the county’s home page.
Sipe said the county is updating the hazard mitigation plan with the assistance of a consultant.
As examples of hazard mitigation, Sipe cited raising road levels and practicing regular culvert maintenance in flood-prone areas, and work that is performed by the Fire Safe Council to help prevent fires.
In revising the plan, Sipe is asking community members to share their stories during a series of meetings across the county.
“We want them to let us know where there are vulnerabilities,” he said.
In an emergency
The operations plan addresses in detail what occurs during an actual emergency — from who calls it to the location of evacuation centers.
Sipe has the authority to proclaim an emergency and the Board of Supervisors has seven days to ratify it and formally declare it.
The county’s public health director has similar authority when the emergency is due to a sickness outbreak.
The emergency operations center would be located on the second floor of the courthouse annex in Quincy, and if that site is unavailable for any reason, operations move to the sheriff’s department.
Sipe said that the county has worked with Plumas Unified School District and Feather River College to use their campuses as evacuation sites.
Both entities are also required by the state to have their own emergency preparedness plans. The school district has one in place, and the college is currently working on one.
The three local hospitals also have plans and Sipe said that the county and the hospitals recently completed a joint training.
“We did a large exercise with each of the three hospitals assuming massive power outages,” Sipe said. “We interact on a regular basis with the hospitals.”
He said he also worked with the school district to stage a mock situation involving “an active shooter” in Greenville, which included the sheriff.
The city of Portola also has an emergency plan in place.
Sipe said that the plans should complement one another.
During a presentation to the college’s board of trustees in November, an emergency preparedness consultant said that the college should work with the county when developing its plan. (See related story.)
While county department heads play a role during a disaster situation, so do all county employees. They are designated as disaster service workers.
Other such designees include fire department members and their auxiliaries, search and rescue volunteers, amateur radio operators and Red Cross workers.
Sipe encourages others who would like to assist in an emergency to become affiliated with one of those organizations.
PREPARE A FAMILY EMERGENCY PLAN
Discuss the types of disasters that are most likely to happen and what to do in each case.
Post emergency telephone numbers near telephones.
Teach children how and when to dial 911 and how to make a long-distance phone call.
Learn how to turn off the water, gas and electricity at your home.
Pick two places to meet in case family members become separated.
Choose a safe place right outside your home in case of a sudden emergency, like a fire.
Choose a second place outside of your neighborhood in case you can’t return home.
Choose a friend or relative as an out-of-town contact person in the event of a disaster. It is often easier to make a long-distance phone call than a local call from a disaster area. If your family members get separated, they should call this person as soon as possible to tell them where they are.
Determine escape routes from your home and safe places within your home for different types of disasters.
Complete a family communications plan and include contact information for family members, work and school.
In addition to being prepared to address countywide issues, Sipe said it’s important for county personnel and volunteers to ensure that they and their families are prepared as well. He also encourages all county residents to take basic measures to be prepared in an emergency.
The county’s website includes a 25-page guide for individuals called the “Emergency Preparedness Guide for Plumas County Residents.” (See adjacent excerpts of how your family can be prepared for an emergency situation.) To view the full packet, visit the office of emergency services page on countyofplumas.com.
Sipe’s primary role with the county is as its environmental health director, but he devotes a lot of time to his other work as the OES director.
When asked if dealing with the threats of what could happen ever become overwhelming, he said that he feels better knowing that the county is prepared.
He also said that he would rather weather an emergency situation in Plumas County than anywhere else.
He cited the mandatory evacuations during the Chips Fire as evidence of that.
“We only had to help a couple of people,” he said. “Everyone here is so self-sufficient and they also have the support of neighbors, family and friends.
“There is a broad safety net,” he continued. “It’s a big reason why we all choose to live here.”