Feature Article - August 2013
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Disaster Recovery

Playgrounds & Parks Rebuild Following Wrath of Storms

By Deborah L. Vence

Should a large emergency occur at one more of their facilities or should an emergency situation occur that has a large impact around the state, the California Department of Parks and Recreation (California State Parks) may decide to open its Department Emergency Operations Center (DOC).

"Typically, this decision is made by the chief of the LEES Division upon consultation with the deputy director for park operations. A temporary site is set at headquarters in Sacramento. Key staff then deploy to the primary location, where materials and equipment are available to assist the park units or other state agencies as needed," Hada said.

And, if the situation calls for it, a member of the parks staff is then sent to the State Warning Center in order to provide assistance and/or information to other state agencies.

"When the governor declares a state of emergency, all state agencies have specific responsibilities that they must be able to do," Hada said. "State parks responsibilities include, but are not limited to providing evacuation locations and assistance with any needed law enforcement response. Districts and individual park units are also expected to send representatives to local and regional emergency operations centers in order to coordinate responses to various emergencies."

Craig Sap, district superintendent, Angeles District, Calabasas, Calif., noted that all state parks in California have wildfire management plans, and are basically detailed by unit. "Within each unit, they use camp areas. You have preventive measures in place," he said.

In one example, campgrounds were the focus of a successful fire attack strategy at Point Mugu in Ventura County. The Springs fire burned 80 percent of Pt. Mugu State Park back in May. But, an intense, focused effort reopened trails throughout the park within a couple of weeks. The fire originally started May 3, and went on for three or four days.

"When the governor declares a state of emergency, all state agencies have specific responsibilities that they must be able to do."
— Mark Hada, Superintendent III, Public Safety/Sutter's Fort State Historic Park/State Indian Museum, Sacramento, Calif.

Sap said that typically a fire of that size gets FEMA support. But, "not many structures were burnt," he said, adding that two ranch buildings, an abandoned building and bathroom structure were affected by the fire.

What's more, an evacuation plan also has been developed for removing millions of dollars' worth of art from the Will Rogers home, with trucks on hand, a system and order for packing artwork and plans to move from a highly congested Pacific Palisades area in California. (Will Rogers State Historic Park is the former estate of American humorist Will Rogers. It is located in the Santa Monica mountains in Los Angeles, in the Pacific Palisades area. Rogers built a 31-room ranch house there.)

Much of California's statewide disaster preparedness training and planning has to take place on the regional or local level because of the types of geography, resources, agency and political interaction, etc. That is, what works in a park near urban Los Angeles might not be the same blueprint for a park in the high sierra or the desert or a historic park in the floodplain in Sacramento, for example.

Sap explained that the process of disaster recovery entails preparing buildings for disaster, keeping a perimeter of space around buildings and roadways, which takes place on an annual basis. "Other preparation procedures include testing fire hydrants and training people in terms of evacuation," he said. "Those are kind of prepared things. Training is ongoing for people, in preparation for these types of events. It could be torrential rains that force you to do certain things."

Without a doubt, the lessons learned from previous disasters helped State Parks know how to protect assets from fire and how to get park resources up in running quickly after a disaster.

"One thing is key, past history. We know from past history. And you have an east wind, we know the fire behavior. Nearly 20 years, we have high fuel content. Five miles, six miles away, we have made a decision to evacuate," he added.

And, with some of the lessons from the past, a key step is to know what inventory you have.

"You have to have a method to the madness, so to speak. You have to know how to evacuate that house. You get certain events in which you have to remove the items. You have to watch it and monitor it. You look at the wind patterns, and what the prognosis is," Sap said.