The fear of the unknown is often paralyzing. For Californians, the threat of an earthquake is all too real.
There have already been five earthquakes in California of at least 3.9 magnitude in 2016. It’s not a matter of if an earthquake will hit, but simply when and where.
With the Southern California Earthquake Center recently suggesting that California is ripe for a devastating earthquake and that the San Andreas Fault Line is overdue due to pressure buildup for more than 100 years, preparation and emergency response to an earthquake disaster is maybe now more paramount than ever.
To that, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) is using emergency-disaster exercises to specifically prepare for realistic scenarios.
In Southern California this week, first responders and emergency personnel conducted just such a scenario – a catastrophic earthquake – with their teams of specialists, known as MOBEX.
The MOBEX (Mobilization Exercise) Drill is a two-day Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) exercise at the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Del Valle Regional Training Center and the County of Los Angeles Reservoir at nearby Castaic. This week’s drill simulated a structural collapse with trapped victims in both land based damaged structures and in structures that have fallen into waterways.
The exercise is designed to evaluate the readiness of the local, regional and state/federal US&R task forces and their abilities to mobilize personnel and equipment and respond to a complex Urban Search and Rescue operation. Once on-site, rescue personnel were expected to be self-sufficient for the duration of the exercise and participated in complex simulated structure stabilizations and rescues.
“These type of exercises are vital to maintain the response capabilities of our State Type 1 US&R Teams,” said Orange County Fire Captain Richard Ventura. “Obviously (we) don’t have earthquakes that often, but these realistic exercises ensure we are always prepared.”
Here is an overview of the earthquake exercise:
The premise of MOBEX is that a 7.2 earthquake occurred on May 11, 2016, along the coast of Southern California. The epicenter of the earthquake was located near downtown Los Angeles, with an estimated duration of 3 minutes. Damages, fatalities and injuries were reported throughout Southern California, and two significant aftershocks of 6.8 and 5.5 magnitudes occurred. The majority of the damage was centered in the Los Angeles County Area, although the United States Geological Survey (USGS) issued a tsunami warning for the entire west coast and Hawaiian Islands.
Funded by Cal OES’s Fire and Rescue Division, more than 200 specially trained individuals from California Task Force 2 (CA-TF2 / Los Angeles County Fire Department) and California Task Force 5 (CA-TF5 / Orange County Fire Authority) participated.
“Conducted annually by the Cal OES Fire Rescue Division, MOBEX exercises have all the functional elements of the Urban Search and Rescue Task Forces assigned,” said Assistant Chief Joe Gear of Cal OES Fire and Rescue Special Operations. “The goal is to ensure that the highest degree of readiness is maintained with timely response, whether in a drill or in an actual disaster, as the primary goal.”
Personnel in the two task forces participating in the MOBEX included firefighters, structural engineers, medical doctors and rescue systems experts. All of the necessary specialized vehicles, hi-tech equipment and search dogs to conduct a multi-day rescue mission were also mobilized and moved to the two training sites.
In addition to the two Cal OES funded task forces, other participating agencies consisted of the Santa Monica Fire Department (playing the fictional Del Valle Fire Department) and California US&R Task Force 3 (CA-RTF3 – comprised of personnel and equipment from the Long Beach Fire Department).
Evaluating the MOBEX were personnel from six Cal OES US&R Task Forces, including Los Angeles City Fire Department, Menlo Park Fire District, Oakland Fire Department, Riverside City Fire Department, Sacramento City Fire Department and San Diego Fire Rescue Department. Cal OES Fire and Rescue Division personnel were also assigned to coordinate the exercise and its evaluation.