Discussion prepares residents for potential disasters in Encinitas

If last year's fires would have spread closer to Encinitas, how could residents have better prepared themselves? A presentation March 26 aimed to answer that question.

The Community Emergency Response Team’s (CERT) “Are You Ready?” workshop at Encinitas Community Center addressed potential natural threats to Encinitas, including fires and earthquakes. Arnie Lewin, the Encinitas Fire Department liaison for CERT, also discussed the importance of neighborhood security, pandemic disease and transportation or nuclear accidents to the packed room of about 50 residents.

Fires, Lewin said, are one of the biggest risks in Encinitas, whether they are in the household or out in nature.

Lewin said the top cause for household fires is candles. Other factors can be unattended food, multiple frayed cords in an outlet, poor chimney care, smoke alarms with dead batteries and malfunctioning space heaters. People should ensure they install and maintain smoke alarms on each level of the home, change the batteries every six months and know how to use a fire extinguisher, Lewin said. If a fire is "bigger than a trash can," he said residents should dial 911.

Encinitas is also at high risk for wildfires, Lewin said. Fast-growing native plants near Encinitas homes are flammable, and the city's proximity to canyons also creates a threat. Insufficient "defensible spaces" around some homes, older construction, drought conditions, dead foliage and unpredictable Santa Ana winds can also contribute to a potential wildfire.

December's Lilac fire, near the Bonsall area, charred about 4,100 acres and destroyed 157 structures, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune. Lewin said people in Southern California should always be prepared for such a disaster.

"It's fire season in California whenever it's not raining," he said.

Additionally, one of the biggest dangers facing Encinitas, and all of California, is earthquakes. People should drop, cover and hold on in the event of an earthquake, Lewin said. He added it is no longer best to stand in doorways. Large items, like bookshelves and appliances, should be secured.

Lewin said the Southern California area is about 400 years overdue for an earthquake from the Southern San Andreas Fault, about 260 miles north of San Diego. Lewin said even though the risk of a large-magnitude earthquake is greater in Los Angeles and Imperial Counties than San Diego, residents should still be prepared at all times.

"If you can pack a gym bag, you can pack a disaster bag," said Lewin, who has responded to Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Matthew, Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Irene and Alabama tornadoes. People should be prepared to leave within 15 minutes of being advised to evacuate by the authorities. Each family should develop a plan in the event of an emergency well before an event occurs.

Lewin recommends people have a movable disaster kit on each floor of their home. These kits should include items like a three-day supply of water, meal replacement bars, snacks, a first aid kid, medicine, sunblock, personal care items, a change of clothes, jacket, blanket, age-appropriate toys, cash, an emergency phone list and a family disaster plan. Emergency essentials, like food and medication, should also be packed for pets.

Because the phone lines may be jammed due to downed wires or overuse, Lewin suggests people text instead of dial numbers and only call people outside the area.

People should also caution against pandemic diseases, like the flu and anthrax, Lewin said. Washing hands; avoiding contact with those who have symptoms of a virus; and covering sneezes and coughs are keys to controlling and containing a virus.

Lewin also suggests residents get to know their neighbors for extra security from vandalism, theft and break-ins. Such measures can include making a map of each household with contact information and getting to know residents with special needs or limitations, particularly seniors. People should also know which neighbors, like doctors and contractors, might have a particular set of skills or tools in the event of an emergency.

CERT hosts emergency preparedness academies for residents — each consisting of five classes — twice a year. The next session begins April 3 at the Encinitas Community Center. For more information, visit www.enccert.org.

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