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Preparing for the Worst

In light of the natural disaster in Japan and the flood watch in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Campbell city officials talk about how to prepare for nature's emergencies.

Capt. David Carmichael puts it plain and simple. “You can’t predict but you can prepare.”

The captain is referring to how Campbell residents should be ready for the possibilities of a natural disaster.

“People do tend to pull together during an emergency,” said Carmichael, but he adds that citizens shouldn't assume they can depend on their fellow mankind—or even their city response teams—immediately following a natural disaster.

“The best thing we’ve learned through experiencing natural disasters, like the Loma Prieta earthquake, is that people need to be prepared to provide for their basic safety in the first hours after disaster strikes,” said Carmichael.

That means having a family plan and an emergency kit, he said.

Capt. Carmichael’s 5 must-haves in a home emergency-preparedness kit

1. Most importantly, don’t panic, and do have a central meeting location for your family. 2. Have a few days’ supply of water and non-perishable food. 3. Make sure to have a flashlight (don't forget batteries), first aid kit and sanitation supplies. 4. Make sure to have blankets and a hand-crank radio. 5. Make sure to have a tent.

Sign up your digits

Lisa Tait serves as the Campbell Police Department’s support services manager, and when there’s an emergency, she is the expert on Code Red. The recorded emergency-message warning system has been in place since 2008.

“Code Red is an emergency-notification system that can make 60,000 calls per hour,” said Tait.

There are more than 24,000 phone numbers in Campbell’s CodeRED database, including more than 4,300 numbers that are flagged as businesses, she said. More than 1,100 citizens have logged into the CodeRED website and submitted or updated their information so that they can ensure that they receive emergency messages. Residents can also register to receive text messages and email messages.

But with a city near 40,000, these numbers are still low.

"We encourage folks to sign up for both Code Red and Alert SCC (the Santa Clara County version of Code Red) so they have the benefit of receiving both notices from the county and the city," said Al Bito, Campbell's public information officer.

Tait estimates that if the city were to experience a major earthquake and then a subsequent tsunami, as Japan did, there would be just enough time to warn residents to run for higher ground.

“It takes about five minutes to launch the Code Red campaign through a secure website," she said. "I feel confident that all my 911 dispatchers are competent in using the software and can activate Code Red immediately.” 

There is one caveat, though, if there’s no power; most of the residents and businesses with land lines in Campbell will not receive the recorded message warning them of the emergency.

"Phone company landlines are still the most reliable means of communication during a disaster," she explains. "The phone company’s central offices have battery backups  and landlines will work when the electricity is out. However, my understanding is that some cordless phones need electricity so those may not work if the power is out. 

"Older-style corded phones that are plugged in to the telephone jack will usually work despite power outages," Tait continues. "The important thing to stress here is that they should register all of their phones including mobile phones with CodeRED and AlertSCC (the county notification system that we also use) to ensure that they’ll receive an emergency message."

About 1,100 residents have voluntarily listed a cellphone number, which would allow for Code Red to reach them by cellphone or text. If a resident doesn’t have a land line or a registered cellphone number, then they will miss the Code Red message.

“We do have the ability to target a certain area,” said Tait.

For example, if there was a toxic spill or leak in a particular neighborhood of Campbell and residents were warned to stay indoors and close all windows and doors, Code Red could call those people who live on the streets where the spill occurred.

“Code Red is a good system. It’s another tool for our dispatchers,” said Tait.

Bag it

If you think it might flood or you live near one of the many creeks in Campbell, you should keep some sandbags nearby.

The Campbell Public Works Service Center at 290 Dillon Ave. hands out free sand and bags to residents between 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. Residents have to fill their own bags and there's a 25-bag limit. But if you need assistance or are an elderly person, you can call 408-265-2600, and the Santa Clara Valley Water District will let you know where you can pick up pre-filled bags, said Debbie Cifelli, office assistance at the public works service yard.

The more you know, the more you know

There are also emergency-preparedness courses offered through the Campbell Recreation Department that Capt. Carmichael recommends.

The city website offers links to information about emergency procedures, including the Code Red system.

Also, know where the nearest shelter is located. Campbell's main shelter is the Campbell Community Center.

Mayra Flores De Marcotte contributed to this article.

Updated March 25 at 10:36 a.m.

Mayra Flores de Marcotte March 25, 2011 at 05:11 PM
Two other items that may not come to the top of mind to include are a whistle in order to call for help and a can opener to, well, open up those cans of food you set aside for such an emergency. Here's another website with useful information on what to pack in your emergency kit: http://www.ready.gov/america/getakit/

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