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EMERGENCY SERVICE PROVIDERS TACKLE COMMUNICATION ISSUES

Curry County emergency service providers discuss communication issues. ().
Curry County emergency service providers discuss communication issues. ().

By JEFF ST. PETER

A group of 15 area emergency service providers met Tuesday afternoon to discuss potential problems with existing communication procedures in place for Curry County.

?This is an opportunity to share information,? said U.S. Coast Guard Master Chief Boatswains Mate Fred Bowman.?We need to prepare for something that could happen in the future.

?But I have been told, and it?s my understanding, it will happen.?

Representatives at the hour-long meeting included members of the Curry County Sheriff?s Office, Brookings Police Department, Curry County Emergency Services, American Red Cross and the Brookings, Harbor and Winchuck fire departments.

Bill Sharp, chief of the Brookings Fire Department, said the many forms of communication are a part of the problem.

?There are so many different means of communication today,? he said. ?When the warning was issued of a possible tsunami from the earthquake in Peru, CNN had it advertised on the television and people were calling us before we knew about it.

?If we don?t get the information, we don?t know either.?

Chris Wallace, chief of the Brookings Police Department, said he had one suggestion for the county.

?What we would like to see happen is for Brookings Police Department to notify the Coast Guard and sheriff?s office,? he said. ?The Coast Guard can notify us and the sheriff?s office, and the sheriff?s office can notify us and the Coast Guard, if anyone receives any information.

?That way we ensure that we all have the information that any one of us will have.?

Sharp endorsed Wallace?s idea.

?I like what Chris wants to do,? he said. ?It?s a redundant system ? everybody knows that everybody knows.?

Capt. Mark Metcalf, of the Curry County Sheriff?s Office, said once an emergency is underway, it will take more than just a couple of people to get the information out.

?It will be almost impossible for one or two people to make notifications in an emergency,? he said. ?Our 911 dispatchers will be busy answering the phone and probably won?t have time to make any calls out.

?We need to further identify all the players in an emergency situation and start to divvy up how we?ll handle it. We need to identify everyone?s role.?

Michael Murphy, emergency services coordinator for Curry County, said part of the problem is getting the information out beyond those most closely involved in any emergency operation.

?The people in this room probably know what to do,? he said, ?but it?s probably not known much further.

?(For example), we need people to know the difference between a tsunami advisory, watch and warning. Our own people need to have that knowledge.?

Brookings Police Lt. John Bishop said the focus of communications would be different if the earthquake occurs close to the coast.

?If the earthquake happens near here,? he said, ? there will no need to coordinate communications for evacuation. We?ll probably only have 8 to 12 minutes, and the need will be to focus on survivors.

?If the earthquake is further away and we have a tsunami warning, we?ll have time to work on implementing an evacuation plan.?

Chief Boatswains Mate Mike Lewis suggested part of the communications plan needs to address the distinction between the two types of emergencies, and getting that information out to the public.

?When we do get notified, we need to look at the localized event and the long-distance event,? he said. ?In our communications we need to separate these two things distinctly.

?But the big problem is public awareness. We've got to get people to think, learning what to do in an emergency.

?We need to look at what we can do to facilitate getting that information out.?

Doug Johnson, who coordinates local American Red Cross volunteers, said that goal is not an easy one to achieve.

?Public awareness is a nightmare,? he said. ?People seem not to want to be aware of possible disasters.?

Bishop said a potential emergency several years ago highlights the lack of public concern.

?We had a big problem eight or nine years ago when we had a major (tsunami) warning,? he said. ?Where did people go? The beach!

?We had to force people to leave the beach. Sporthaven Beach was crowded. People sat there in lawn chairs waiting for the show.?

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