Nick Furnari joined Santa Monica’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) in October, just a few weeks before the most devastating fire to hit the region ignited. But Furnari, who serves as the office’s emergency services administrator, has spent his career preparing for the worst. He has trained United States senators how to prepare and react to emergencies and developed a plan to mitigate the effects of an oil spill. Now, he is helping Santa Monica plan how to survive natural disasters. The Daily Press sat down with Furnari to understand what the OEM was doing during the Woolsey fire and how community members can ready themselves for the next earthquake or wildfire.
The Woolsey fire started just a few weeks after you joined the Office of Emergency Management. What was it like to have to jump into that right away and what lessons did you take away from it?
Personally, it was a reminder of how important it is to be prepared for natural disasters. We came together as a region to support Malibu’s response efforts. The day after the fire started, the City of Malibu requested to use our emergency operations center since Malibu was evacuated. So employees from the OEM, the communications team, the IT department and the Big Blue Bus all came here and we supported Malibu in their response. There were also emergency managers from West Hollywood, Culver City and Beverly Hills here helping Malibu manage. Malibu’s team was here for two and a half weeks.
Seeing Malibu in here and being a part of the response reemphasized the need for us to continue to exercise and train our team. The individuals that sit at these desks during a disaster have other, full-time (City of Santa Monica) jobs. So it’s up to the OEM to make sure that when they’re called upon as disaster service workers, they know what do, have the training and have exercised their specific role.
You lead the City’s Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) program, where volunteers complete a federally recognized training course to assist their families, friends and communities during disasters. What’s your vision for CERT going forward?
CERT is one of our city’s strongest assets. The effects of a natural or manmade disaster can have severe effects across the city, from businesses to government services. Disasters can impact communications infrastructure, utilities, transportation and the response time of first responders. It’s important for individuals to be prepared to take care of themselves in the event that first responders can’t get to them immediately.
The point of CERT is to provide community members with the skills they would need to survive a disaster. We teach them basic first aid, medical operations and how to put out small fires. We also do annual refreshers if they would like to hone those skills. We might walk them through a search and rescue activity where they might have to go into a trailer where the lights are off and they hear screams for help, and they have to find the victim and triage them before carrying them to safety.
The vision for this year is to build upon current CERT team members’ skills. Down the road, what we would like to do is have a large exercise with our CERT members that’s more or less like an obstacle course. We’re not there yet, but down the line, we would like to have a simulation where they’d put out a small fire, go into a trailer and then do triaging with multiple victims. We would also like to develop a CERT information sharing portal so they can communicate amongst themselves.
What can people who aren’t CERT volunteers do to prepare for disasters?
We strongly encourage everyone to have an emergency kit, and that doesn’t mean walking to Walgreens and buying a first-aid kit. You need to put some serious consideration into it, like what food you would need and actually want to eat, medications, contact lenses and solution and glasses frames and extra clothes. You’re going to want cash, because if the power goes down citywide and all you have is credit cards you’re more or less broke. You need small bills as well because if all you have is a 50 dollar bill and you need to go buy a jug of water, that’s probably going to be a $50 jug of water because not everyone will have change for you.
FEMA recommends having a gallon of water per person or animal per day, and we encourage up to seven days. That sounds like a lot, and it is a lot of water, but if you can put a gallon under your bed, in your closet and in your car, you’ll be grateful if the time comes when you need that.
Our chief resiliency officer Lindsay Call’s tip is to have a pair of old sneakers with the laces tied to each other and then the other lace tied to the front leg of your bed. Inside the sneakers, put a flashlight, batteries, and whatever else you can fit. If there is an earthquake and the bed shakes, the shoes will move with it. There will probably be glass on the floor and you’ll have shoes you can put on right away and you’ll have a flashlight there if the lights are off.
You also need to have a plan. Know what your family plan is, such as who’s going to pick up kids at school, and know the school’s plan or other plans around you. Have an out-of-state contact as a part of your plan so you can check in with a relative or a friend who may not be affected by the local disaster. That individual can post on social media to your friends and family.
Lastly, stay informed by signing up for SM Alerts.