Communications blackout on the coast was a useful practice – Fort Bragg Advocate-News
Tuesday, May 10and, around 10:40 a.m., a private construction crew inadvertently drilled a major communications cable at Fort Bragg. As a result, communications services were lost throughout Fort Bragg and surrounding communities, from Gibney Lane north to West Port. There have also been reports of spotty internet and phone service in communities as far south as Elk and as far east as Laytonville. About 16,000 people have been affected according to AT&T, cited by the Sherriff Department. Services that were lost included all mobile operators, internet, cable TV and landline connections in and out of the region. Landlines in the affected area could call other local landlines, however, circuits soon became overloaded so that only about 1 in 5 calls went through. This outage impacted emergency services as the 911 system went down and people with only cell phones would also not have had the option to call 911.
Due to the loss of internet connection, most local businesses, including gas stations and grocery stores, could not process credit card transactions and ATMs were not working. Pharmacies closed because they could not verify patients’ insurance to fill prescriptions.
“When the internet and cellphones all went down simultaneously, we had no idea how widespread this was,” said Davey Beak, director of Coastal Emergency Ambulance Services and volunteer fire chief for Account. “Like, was it just affecting us on the coast, or was it all of northern California or maybe even the west coast? So we began radioing fire chiefs from other surrounding fire districts and asking each of them to assess the extent of the outage in their area and report back. We quickly got a pretty good idea that it was just located in Fort Bragg and some of the surrounding communities.
The local hospital, Adventist Health Mendocino Coast, immediately activated its emergency command system and established collaboration with the Fort Bragg police, fire department, school district and city manager. “That’s what we’re training for,” said Joyce Boghosian, emergency preparedness manager for Adventist Health in Mendocino County. “Each year we go through a list of the types of emergencies that we are most at risk of having, and then we train for those types of events. For example, last year we conducted exercises that included earthquakes. simulated earth, forest fires, tsunamis and mass evacuations, including the hospital. In these exercises, we include the potential loss of power and communications.” The hospital invites local authorities such as the firefighters, police and sheriff to participate in many of these drills. Therefore, during this communication breakdown, a smooth coordination occurred with these agencies. “It was amazing to see how the hospital naturally became the unified command post through our previous exercises. It was a huge win and shows the value of such preparation,” Boghosian said.
“It’s really helped to have such good collaboration between police, firefighters and the hospital,” said John Naulty, chief of the Fort Bragg Police Department. “The hospital implemented Incident Command Meetings, which allowed me to take the pressure off me so that I could go into the field to do ongoing assessments of the situation. The way we all came together was phenomenal.
In response to the absence of 911, local emergency services worked together to come up with an alternate plan. This plan involved giving out the police department’s phone number on local radio stations. In turn, ambulances would be dispatched by radio as usual. 911 service was operational from the town of Mendocino South and the 911 dispatcher could reach the ambulance by radio, which is standard procedure. During the event, a local resident fractured his leg and received ambulance transport and treatment.
Services inside the hospital were not directly affected. However, coordinating transfers from the emergency department to a higher level of care required the use of a satellite phone. Using this satellite phone, ER was able to communicate with a receiving hospital and was able to transfer a patient during the outage.
This incident was a great opportunity for local emergency agencies to test our systems in real life without having to deal with a large number of casualties. Much of what we learned during the five-day blackout in 2018 was successfully applied this time. “We use every real incident like this as an opportunity not only to respond to the emergency, but also to work on our processes and improve them further so that we are always better prepared for the next time,” Boghosian said. .
It is important that everyone is prepared for disaster. The internet offers many useful guides. Given the possibility of having to evacuate on short notice of a wildfire or tsunami, have a kit put together in advance that includes medication, identification, flashlights with batteries, an AM/FM radio, and some extra cash, the so-called “bug out bag,” is a good idea. Now might be a good time to consider making a plan for cooperating with neighbors on how to respond as a group to help each other. It is especially important for those of us who live on one of the many single-track roads that wind deep in overgrown forests to identify several different escape routes in the event of a wildfire and communicate them to your neighbors.There is a federal program called Neighborhood Emergency Response Training (NERT) that can be found online that can walk you through the steps to create a fire escape plan. disaster response in your neighbourhood.
In the event of a widespread disaster, emergency services may be limited. The more steps you can take in advance to prepare so you don’t have to call for these services, the more these limited emergency services will then be available to help people who may be injured or need help.
Correction: In last week’s Miller report for May 2n/a, the number of COVID-related deaths was incorrectly reported as “over 9 million.” The actual number is around 995,000. This error occurred because I was originally going to say “over 900,000” and then changed it to say “just under a million”. Somehow, in this transition, it was combined with “more than 9 million”. I apologize for any confusion this has caused.