At St. Helena’s Grace Episcopal Church, Sunday was a day of preparation in a season of expecting and preparing for the next disaster.
An estimated 160 to 200 people attended the 9 a.m. service. After a couple of songs, readings from the Bible and the Rev. Anne Clarke’s sermon, a dozen people gathered at the front of the church. The group, made up of officials and first responders, preached a message of getting ready for the next disaster, whether it be fire, flood, earthquake or power shutdown.
“I would like to thank the Rev. Amy (Denney Zuniga) and Diane Dillon, who has done an incredible job of assembling this road show,” Mayor Geoff Ellsworth said. “I’ve been to meetings in Napa, been to meetings in Calistoga and the word is getting out. One by one, the light bulb is going off and all have to do this together. ... Preparation is an action word.”
He added that communities are working together “to make sure we’re ready.” His advice: Have two or three days of food and water for both people and pets; stay engaged with the city and county websites for information about preparedness training; and, despite several disasters in the past five years, don’t assume that all the work has been done. By being prepared, Ellsworth said, everyone can stay calm and focused, which helps all the first responders.
“City Hall will always be a place to get information in the event of an emergency,” he said.
County Supervisor Diane Dillon said by being prepared, “we are better to help ourselves and our neighbors.”
“It is a positive thing to be prepared,” Dillon said. “We need to be prepared in our community and our neighborhoods, but it starts with us individually being prepared.”
When asked what people should do on Preparation Sunday, Melissa Brown, community liaison officer with the St. Helena Police Department, said people should come up with a plan for evacuation and be prepared for a PG&E power shutdown. After that, “reach out to help others,” including neighbors who are disabled or other people who are unable to come up with an evacuation plan in case of a disaster.
Being prepared “will help all of us have a greater peace of mind,” Dillon said, for “what we hope won’t happen, but what could happen and how we respond to it.”
Dillon has been a member of a regional planning committee for the Association of Bay Area Governments, a group that meets every two months, since 2008. The group formed in anticipation of the next major earthquake – the Loma Prieta earthquake was Oct. 17, 1989 – and Dillon said she learned a lot and brought it back to Napa County.
“We started doing different emergency preparation at the county, because we have to be resilient to be able to help the community,” Dillon said. “We have to make sure all of our systems are in place to keep county government going to help other folks. We really worked on that and it paid off in 2014, when we had the Napa earthquake.”
The supervisor said she has been “extremely focused on this” since January 2018, “when we looked ahead and saw that a very horrible thing happened in October 2017 and we realized it could happen again in a few months.”
St. Helena Fire Chief John Sorensen said he wants the community to be ready for disasters, by maintaining defensible space, hardening your home, preparing your family with an evacuation plan, assembling an emergency kit and knowing evacuation routes.
For Dillon, though, the community’s next challenge will be when PG&E shuts down its power this summer and fall, when weather conditions warrant it. How many times? “They guessestimate three to five times for three to five days,” she said. The two PG&E representatives at the event were making sure that PG&E has updated contact and emergency information so that the company can notify customers of planned power outages 48 and 24 hours before and then just before power is shut down.
Those weather conditions include high heat, sustained high winds, low humidity and an anticipation that tree branches could be knocked into power lines, possibly beginning wildland fires.
“That means we need to have everyone better prepared to deal with that situation, because there is only one first responder for every 100-200 people,” Dillon said. “We need to help each other as much as we can.”
Grant Showley, junior warden at Grace Episcopal Church, is one of those on a church group spearheading emergency preparedness. He said the event included booths for a dozen agencies, including St. Helena Fire and Police departments, Cal Fire, Napa County Sheriff, Fire Safety Council, Napa Community Animal Response Team and others. On Monday, he said the event was so successful, with such a large turnout, that it may be offered again in the fall.
Additionally, he added Steves Hardware has a full line of emergency response items, including gas powered generators, all on aisle 5.