Friday, October 28, 2005

Arming for potential disaster in Vacaville

Article Last Updated: 10/27/2005 06:32 AM

Arming for potential disaster

By Kimberly K. Fu/Staff Writer

Emergency responders from across the region are congregating in Vacaville this week for a three-day weapons of mass destruction threat and risk assessment planning and management program.

Essentially, public safety and other personnel, together with representatives of private industries such as Alza Corp. and Genentech, are learning skills to help them prevent, react to or recover from a terrorism incident with the potential for mass casualties.

That's not to say that there is any imminent terrorist threat to Vacaville or any other California city, officials said.

"Fortunately, nothing like that has happened in Vacaville. But, we want to be prepared in case something does," said Bob Powell, manager of the Solano County Office of Emergency Services. "And, it also helps us prepare for natural disasters."

From Tuesday through today, the nearly 45 participants engaged in classwork and field exercises. The course - taught by instructors with the Texas Engineering Extension Service - was conducted through a grant by the Department of Homeland Security.

Participants learned to assess risks - to buildings, events, etc. - and write needs assessments - including necessary equipment, training and other aid - to address those risks.

For example, instructor Bill Graner focused on a slide of a "secure" building featuring a security camera.

"Security cameras are great, but they're not worth a doggone if no one's watching them," he pointed out.

Wednesday's field exercise was to evaluate risks at seven Vacaville sites chosen at random. Participants were given nearly three hours to visit their assigned site and give it a thorough going over. After pinpointing any issues and photographing them, students would then present their findings to the class. A needs assessment report would follow.

"It's really easy to find weaknesses," Graner emphasized. "It's a lot harder to find good practices."

Several main goals would be accomplished by course's end, said Senior Instructor Bob Lowrey - teamwork, skills to better aid each jurisdiction in emergency preparedness and standardized training, meaning the participating agencies would be on the same page as others across the nation.

Everything, again, comes down to preparedness, Powell said.

"It just gives us a real good look at what we have in the county," he said. "And it's just a good example of how all the agencies are trying to work together ... to accomplish the same mission."

Kimberly K. Fu can be reached at

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