Santana: We Are Not Ready

Nick Gerda/Voice of OC

St. Joseph Hospital in Orange is one of the few hospitals across Orange County with mental health beds.

I froze in my garage Friday morning, when right in the middle of a heated conversation with a source, everything around me started to suddenly shake.

My first thought – both as a journalist and resident – was, “Shit, I’m nowhere near ready.”

As a family, we do a decent job of keeping water, back-up food and some supplies but when the shaking began, I wasn’t really sure what to do even though I’ve been told since grammar school.

Ironically, here at Voice of OC many in our newsroom are self-titled, disaster prep geeks – led by our Digital Editor Sonya Quick.

Quick has been leading an internal discussion over the past year about starting a disaster prep and response webpage – specifically focused on Orange County.

A place you can check the minute the ground starts shaking or the hillsides go up in flames, where you can get the latest in up-to-the-minute news and information about what’s happening regarding disaster response in Orange County.

This summer, we have our two latest interns – Noah Biesiada and Xochilt Lagunas – working on the first designs and content for our disaster page.

With this recent earthquake, I also will be turning attention to disaster issues with this column in addition to the usual focus our newsroom gives disaster prep and response.

Yet where we can make the biggest impact, for all of us, is to create a vibrant community engagement panel around disaster prep and response in Orange County.

We need a more focused public conversation.

We are not ready.

For example, numerous recent Orange County grand juries have repeatedly raised troubling questions about whether the county government’s own emergency operation center at Loma Ridge, just off Santiago Canyon Road near Orange, is adequately ready for a major disaster.

Just last year, the most recent grand jury took aim – again – at the narrow road that leads to the emergency operations center as a potential danger if there’s a big emergency requiring many more people to use the center, which was itself threatened by the Santiago Fire in 2007.

There are also concerns that the back-up road – a narrow Jeep trail, that while likely fun (I’m seeing an up-close news feature here), is problematic and not adequate as a back up for evacuation or alternative access.

In that very same report, our grand jury also noted that other counties have back up emergency centers but Orange County does not.

In addition, when the Irvine Company first donated the land for Loma Ridge back in 1991, it was intended as a much smaller operation than the hundreds that work out of the facility today.

In recent times, we have also seen our two main public safety agencies – the Orange County Sheriff and the Orange County Fire Authority – battle over emergency response funding and access on issues such as helicopter response.

I noticed that LA County officials – led by county supervisors chairwoman Janice Hahn – offered the public a press conference on Sunday afternoon to talk about earthquake preparedness.

Orange County should consider doing the same.

In addition to the county emergency operations center, every city has its own emergency command center.

People should know where these sites are, what’s being done in real time during these kinds of disasters and what residents can do to be best prepared for tough times when they arrive.

We will be looking to convene a public conversation at Voice of OC in the near future with the aim of recruiting community volunteers who can help us build a solid disaster response web page and help monitor disaster issues and response across the county.

With this kind of community engagement panel, our aim will be to learn from those experts and community volunteers in the field that are already doing good work and help amplify and examine those efforts.

If you know of good people and organizations that we should be coordinating with for our community engagement panel, please send me an email at nsantana@voiceofoc.org or you can also reach out to our Digital Editor, Sonya Quick, at squick@voiceofoc.org.

Another way you can really help get this effort rolling is by joining our ranks as a donor.

This kind of coverage – protecting your quality of life – is what our nonprofit newsroom is focused on, 100 percent of the time.

Remember, Voice of OC is the only free news site in Orange County but it isn’t free to produce.

We move fast here at VOC, so we will look to launch the disaster page quickly (especially given this weekend’s earthquakes) and will keep updating our efforts as we move along.

We are all behind on this.

Lets help each other quickly catch up.