Sonoma County’s ‘Ready Day’ provides residents tips on preparing for next natural disaster

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The need to be ready on a moment’s notice with accurate information, emergency supplies and safe evacuation routes was the message public safety and elected leaders emphasized Sunday during the county’s first-ever Sonoma Ready Day.

Twenty-three months after the October 2017 firestorm, more than 4,500 people were estimated to have flocked to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds to learn how they can better plan for the next disaster — whether it’s another catastrophic wildfire, or major flood or earthquake. Organizers hope to turn the community gathering based on one in San Mateo County into an annual event, highlighting the need to prepare for disasters like the fires that killed 40 residents and destroyed more than 6,200 homes in the North Bay nearly two years ago.

“Disaster unfortunately has become a part of our lives in a very huge way,” Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane said. “It’s just something that’s a continual process, we know that. We’re getting ready, every single day.”

Early birds received free emergency kits. The 2,100 kits were gone in about an hour and a half, with another 300 packs reserved for more vulnerable populations, including seniors, those without reliable transportation and members of the Latino community.

Each emergency kit, valued at $50, included vacuum-packed U.S. Coast Guard food bar rations and a dozen pouches of water, a flashlight, first-aid kit, a pair of reflective emergency survival blankets and face masks. The giveaway was made possible through a $100,000 donation from the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria, which since 2013 has operated a casino and resort on the outskirts of Rohnert Park.

“This tribe, with its resources now, is committed to giving all that we can to make a better, healthier, more sustainable community,” said Greg Sarris, tribal chairman of the Graton Rancheria, challenging PG&E and prosperous local businesses to donate more money to disaster preparedness. “I say, very crassly, if we can’t get social justice and environmental stewardship, the tribe will buy it — and I’m not kidding. This is one example.”

Children had the chance to meet Sparky the Fire Dog at the disaster preparedness fair, as well as climb aboard emergency vehicles, including Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office Henry 1 chopper and a Cal Fire Huey helicopter with a 324-gallon water bucket. Meanwhile, their parents picked up tips at more than 60 information booths and attended English- and Spanish-language sessions led by local fire and law enforcement officials. Topics ranged from ensuring health and wellness during emergencies to how to prepare for different types of natural disasters.

Government officials said the 2017 firestorm offered lessons on how to plan for future disasters, including a large-scale earthquake.

“We ended up evacuating between 80,000 and 100,000 people within that first night. Thousands upon thousands of people went to shelters,” Paul Lowenthal, Santa Rosa’s assistant fire marshal, told a crowd about the 2017 firestorm. “From an earthquake response standpoint, that was a very good practice for us. That’s made us that much more prepared.”

State Sen. Mike McGuire told the crowd it brought him great pride to think of his native county as a model for other communities around the state on rebuilding, resiliency and becoming more prepared. Santa Rosa Mayor Tom Schwedhelm, meanwhile, underscored the need for residents to get to know their neighbors, as well as put together “go bags” and emergency kits.

The free emergency kits, which are designed to provide enough supplies for two people for three days, drew Harla Simon, 65, of Santa Rosa, to Sonoma Ready Day on Sunday morning. The longtime Sonoma County resident said she also learned at the event about other items she should buy and tuck away in case of another emergency. She planned to present those items to a citizen preparedness group that she and fellow residents in her senior living complex organized following the 2017 wildfires.

“I don’t have a tent, and I think I need to replenish the cash in my go bag,” Simon said. “The fact that I was able to get one was very helpful, because there’s things in here that I didn’t have in mind. I want to bring it to the meeting.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin Fixler at 707-521-5336 or kevin.fixler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @kfixler.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been revised to include more accurate figures on the 2017 wildfire losses across the North Bay region.

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