The Captain's View: How prepared are you for a disaster?

 I have recently taken some pretty intensive disaster preparedness training courses and thought it would be a good topic to write about. We have not heard it for a while, but it used to be common to say “it’s not a matter of if, but when” the next disaster is going to happen – and for us, that is usually in the form of an earthquake.

My training had to do with incident command, but how would you answer the following questions? How would you survive for 72 hours? In a major disaster, it might be at least three days before vital services are restored. Have you assembled an emergency kit? Do you know how to turn your utilities off, just in case? There are many, many more things to consider. And realize that in the beginning of the disaster, essential services (police, fire, medical) will be overwhelmed, so anything that you can do to make yourself self-sufficient will aid us as we deal with the event.

Before a disaster strikes, the experts recommend that we assemble emergency kits to include food and water, sanitation supplies, a portable radio with extra batteries, a 5-day supply of prescription medicines, a flashlight, copies of important documents, etc.

Communications will become an issue, as phones will become overwhelmed initially. Learn how to use the text feature on your cell phone as it utilizes a different part of the cell network and may still be functional. I was directing traffic for the 1989 earthquake, and even our police radios experienced a very brief period of overload immediately after the shaking. Improvements have been made on our current communications systems, and we should not experience that again.
Include your children in any emergency drills and evacuation planning. And if you have pets, prepare an emergency kit for them too to include food and water, a muzzle, a sturdy leash or pet carrier, pet medications, etc.

If you have the time, energy, and want to put in the effort, there is free training offered by the fire department on how to help yourself and your neighbors after a disaster. It is called the Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT), and to find out about the next training (it is ongoing), call 415-970-2022 or visit their website at You can also take preparedness and safety classes with the American Red Cross Bay Area Chapter – they can be contacted at 415-427-8077 or visit their website at And don’t ever forget about SF SAFE. They will help you set up your own Neighborhood Watch group and can be reached at 415-553-1984 or

Most of this information was obtained from a fantastic eight-page brochure created by the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management. I would encourage you to obtain your own copy as it contains a great deal more information than I have provided; call 415-588-2700 or visit or

Until next time, be careful and be prepared.

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