Orange County Branch Newsletter

September 2008

Secretary's Column

Disasters and Engineers

By Ziad Y. Mazboudi, PE


At 11:42 a.m. on July 29, I was in my car waiting for the signal to turn green, when I felt the car shaking.  First I thought it was the train as I was near the railroad tracks, but there was no train, then I saw the signals swinging, so I knew it was an earthquake.  I remember the shaking/rolling that the Northridge earthquake put us through as I lived in Palmdale then, and luckily I was near my family, so I knew instantly that they were all ok.  But, most of us were at work on July 29, and guess what? Most cellular phones did not work after the earthquake.  So, do you know what to do in case of a disaster, natural or man made!?  Most of us assume that life will get back to normal real quick, the government will help us and life goes on.  Well, wake up and smell the coffee.  You need to think a little smarter.  Most of us have seen lately some of the disasters on television, and seen the conditions that have left the public on their own, at least the first couple of days.  Scenes of Katrina, the floodings in the Midwest, earthquakes are a grim reminder of the structural damages and losses of lives disasters can inflict.  So, we should learn from these events and not bury our heads in the sand.  Let the latest earthquake be a wake up call for us.  I’m going to use earthquakes as the example in my article, but it could be any other disaster, and you should think of where you live, and identify your greatest risk or multiple risks and develop a plan of action.  So, if you live in South Orange County, you should be aware of the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station (SONGS) evacuation plan and understand what you should do in case you hear the sirens.  You should realize that if you work North of your home, say in Anaheim and live in San Clemente, you might not be able to get back home in case of a real alert at SONGS, as evacuation will not allow you to go back to your home.  So, your family will need to know where to evacuate to, and where to meet and what to do without you being present to assist.  But, let’s be more general, let’s assume an earthquake hits, one similar to the Northridge earthquake but where more damage might occur in Orange County.  What should you do, and how to be prepared.  If the disaster happens while you’re at home, you will be able to find out the status of your immediate family and assist as needed.  But, have you thought about what could happen in such a situation, do you have emergency supplies, do you know where your utilities shutoffs are, do you know where your important papers are, do you know where the flash light is.  Have you ever taken a first aid class to be able to help your family or may be trained your family on basic first aid so they can assist each other if need be.  These are just some ideas and you can find more in the great handbook titled:”Putting down roots in earthquake country”.  You can find it on-line at http://www.earthquakecountry.info/roots. ; After you take care of your immediate family, your immediate neighborhood could use your help, may be your senior citizen neighbors.  So, do your best to assist as the fire department might not be able to reach your neighborhood.

As a civil engineer, if you work in a private firm, you should think of how a large disaster could affect your work.  You might have a project out of the area, out of state or out of the country.  Your client might be sympathetic at the time of the disaster, but after a while, clients would expect their project to be moving forward.  Well, what if you lost everything because you don’t have a good back up plan in place and you had to start from zero.  So, develop a business disaster plan, do not leave your business response plan to luck.  Financial consequences to your business might be severe.  A good business plan might include training staff on assisting local government on evaluating damaged structures.  Such training is provided by ASCE, through the Office of Emergency Services (OES).  In disaster times, there is a great need for engineers who can assist in evaluating and providing solutions, so be ready to assist.

A public agency engineer is part of the city’s civil defense system, and could be called to assist in the city’s response plan.  Part of the city’s needs after a disaster is to evaluate the conditions of its infrastructures, and to assist their residents.  Also, bringing the city back into normal conditions becomes one of the top priorities.  Being trained in identifying failing structures is very important.  The same ASCE/OES training is available for public engineers.

Most of us don’t want to think about disasters, but there is nothing worse than being caught in a disaster unprepared, so start planning and be ready.

This will be my last article as a secretary, and my last newsletter as editor. I hope that you have enjoyed the articles and the newsletters during my term.

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