Chris Smith: Who’s most likely to save you from the next disaster? You

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What’s the difference between the year-end holidays and a natural disaster?

Once we’re through the holidays, we can forget about ’em for a year.

Not so with a tragedy on the scale of the firestorm of 2017. If we’re not actively digesting and acting on the lessons learned, not making sure we’re as ready as we can be for the next blaze or earthquake or flood, we’re setting ourselves up to suffer needlessly yet again.

THAT’S MY TAKEAWAY from KSRO radio anchor Pat Kerrigan’s robust conversation the other day with a panel of key responders to the fires and their daunting fallout.

“Know what alert systems are available, and sign up for them,” Rob Giordano urged the audience at the Finley Center. Giordano, of course, became Sonoma County’s sheriff shortly before the October 2017 infernos, and just weeks ago retired from the post.

He referred to the alert systems that currently include SoCoAlert and Nixle.

If you turn your cellphone off at night or put it somewhere you can’t hear it, you might want to rethink that practice.

“People need to talk to each other,” said Chris Godley, the county’s new emergency management director.

Many people safely escaped the advancing flames 15 months ago because neighbors, relatives, friends, co-workers or someone else aware of the danger phoned or texted them or banged on their door.

Next time, we’ve got to act even faster to spread the word of the threat. We can ponder now who we know who might be most in need of alerts and assistance.

And we need to be better prepared to take the alerts, whatever their source, seriously.

“If you receive an evacuation order,” Giordano told the gathering hosted by the Museums of Sonoma County, “get out.”

The crisis-seasoned former sheriff said that as the fires of ’17 advanced, there were people who chose not to leave, or not to leave quickly. And they died.

Kerrigan asked the people in the audience if they’d yet packed a go-bag, or if they planned to.

Such a pack might hold cash, pollution masks, underwear and socks and other clothing, a first-aid kit, medicines, a crank-style flashlight and radio, a blanket, energy bars, water and a flash drive loaded with key documents such as driver’s licenses, insurance papers, passports and photos of all the rooms in your house.

I haven’t yet packed such a bag. You?

KERRIGAN’S PANEL spoke also of progress made in refining the wireless emergency alert system that Sonoma County disaster management officials decided not to activate during the firestorms.

“I’m going to fix this,” Godley declared.

County Supervisor James Gore told of the promise of new, high-definition fire-detection cameras.

David Guhin, whose titles include Santa Rosa assistant city manager, reported that after losing 3,000 homes to flames, the city is processing 1,500 applications for rebuilds.

City Fire Chief Tony Gossner and the other panelists told their listeners that government is working to better protect them from the next disaster. But the evening’s overall message couldn’t have been clearer:

Please, please, prepare to protect yourself.

You can contact columnist Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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